Things that were going to kill off the coach industry: Compulsory seatbelts. Digital tachographs. Euro IV, V and then VI. And now finally, PSVAR. The common denominator: They did not, and in the case of PSVAR, will not.
I am not sure how many of these columns I have written, but until today I had stayed clear of PSVAR (as it has been covered to death elsewhere). But this month, and following the government call for evidence and the seemingly more collegiate approach of Richard Holden compared to his predecessor Baroness Vere, it seems an appropriate time to touch upon it.
I responded to the call for evidence and came away with the feeling that what is required, and more importantly, what is practical, are two different things. Compromise will be needed from everyone involved to make a lasting difference and improve the service that the physically impaired deserve.
Of our 18 vehicles, six are PSVAR compliant. The lifts are seldom deployed on coach travel for school trips. But, and it is a big but, we do use them. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction that a child in a wheelchair can go on the same coach, sit with their friends, and enjoy the same service as able-bodied children.
I have two youngish children, and if either used a wheelchair, my wife and I would fight tooth and nail for them not to be discriminated against because of that. We also operate local services, and again, our low-floor buses mean that we accommodate wheelchair users with no detrimental effect on the timetable, or inconvenience for other passengers.
In a perfect world, this would be the same for every trip, holiday, football match and any other event that we take people to and from.
Sadly, though, we don’t live in Utopia. Our school runs tend to be rural, and there is simply no infrastructure in place to get the lifts out and safely load and unload wheelchair users. On average, it takes around 15 minutes. Each home-to-school contract would require two members of staff, as well as a minimum of an extra 15 minutes added to the timings per wheelchair user.
I cannot get away from the fact that it is simply not practical to have PSVAR in place on the majority of routes for reasons of time and cost. Going back to my own children, I am fairly sure that I would accept that some things are not practical and cannot be achieved.
So there we have it. Two sides of the same coin. Let’s get PSVAR wherever it is possible and practical, but we certainly don’t need every coach on the road to be compliant.
When schools call us for a quote, they simply ask for a PSVAR compliant vehicle in the same way that they ask for a 70-seater. The principle is the same: The customer specifies what they want, and we supply accordingly. Not every vehicle here has wi-fi, a toilet, etc., but if you want it, we can supply it.
Buses have come a long way towards full compliance, but as is almost universally acknowledged, coaches and buses are completely different animals. Let’s achieve the maximum we can, but also accept that some things simply are not possible despite the best of intentions.