Before COVID-19, the government, local authorities and passenger transport executives (PTEs) reminded all operators about PSVAR, clearly indicating that failure to adhere when required would result in fines, a possible Public Inquiry and even potentially loss of contracts.
I am one of the first to complain how ludicrous it is to try and operate PSVAR-compliant vehicles on some rural routes. Most of our home-to-school contracts at that time had 70-seat coaches.
The choice I had was to either convert them to PSVAR or do something else. Conversion costs are up to £30,000, but lifts could not be deployed anywhere along those routes nor at the school. Plus, there would be a reduction in seating capacity, meaning that some children would be unable to get to and from school safely – ironically, the reduced seating leaving enough space for a wheelchair user who may not exist.
As a responsible operator, we took short-term PSVAR exemptions while we sourced alternative vehicles. Over the next six to 12 months, I sold coaches that I had owned from new and purchased PSVAR-compliant, seatbelt-equipped double-decker buses, thereby abiding by the government’s rules but having the capacity to carry a minimum of 70 children.
Like all in our industry we have had a hard time during COVID-19. Not only was this financially difficult, but it was mentally draining, especially with little support from the government. We are also in a city region that has been pursuing a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) and publicly advertising that there will be high daily charges for non-Euro VI commercial vehicles.
Since 2016, our company has been actively reducing our carbon footprint by operating newer vehicles, replacing lighting systems with LEDs, purchasing a new and more efficient brake tester and vehicle column lifts, and so on.
I appreciate that Euro VI is my next hurdle. Possibly not as big as PSVAR, but one nevertheless that I need to deal with. Over the last five years I have been selling older coaches to purchase new ones. Bearing in mind PSVAR, I have also had many of my Euro VI coaches converted to comply, plus drivers have been trained to use the equipment fitted.
During 2021, with increasing staff shortages throughout the industry, we increased drivers’ hourly rate by over 20% and reduced the evening and weekend work we took on in the hope of giving staff a better work/life balance.
Then tenders were issued for school services on which we ran PSVAR-compliant vehicles. We lost them all to operators running non-PSVAR vehicles. That, to me, is morally wrong. Once a route has compliant vehicles on it, the tendering body should insist that it is maintained with suitable like-for-like stock.
I, like many other operators, have found time and funds to adhere to PSVAR. Ironically,
the school we served for many years is now not seeing the high standards we set. After reading social media comments, I am staggered that the PTE has done nothing to resolve this poor service.
If U-turns on CAZ requirements in certain cities continue, those operators that have stood by and done nothing can continue to run at lower cost than those who have been at the forefront of market changes. I am reliably informed that in Greater Manchester, vehicles and staff that had been sent to fit signage to inform people that they were entering a CAZ are out again to cover these signs up.
Does that action not defeat the whole reducing emissions policy altogether?
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