The Traffic Commissioners (TCs) have updated their advice note to operators that is intended as guidance during the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Principal among its contents are further changes to the temporary local bus service registration variation process. They extend provision beyond the previous deadline of 4 January 2021 to at least late May. In England and Scotland, notification periods also change from that date.
The updated document additionally clarifies when a vehicle is off the road during periods of ‘lockdown’ for the purposes of maintenance. It furthermore recognises the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until 31 March 2021.
Temporary bus service variation process extended
The principal difference for bus service registration variations is that the date by which they must revert to the pre-pandemic timetable is now open ended. A review will be undertaken on 1 March 2021. Even then, operators and local authorities (LAs) will be given 84 days’ notice of the reversion date. That means it will be no sooner than 24 May 2021.
What will change from 4 January 2021 are notification periods in England and Scotland. In both countries, applications for temporary variations received on or after that date will become subject to an LA notice period of seven days. In England only, there will also be a 28-day statutory notification.
Despite that, the document contains provision for a clearly defined emergency procedure in England. That will allow operators to vary services at shorter notice than the above timeframes from 4 January 2021 onwards, but it may only be used in certain scenarios relating to the pandemic.
Under such an emergency, the LA notification period will reduce to 72 hours. It will then be for the TC to allow a short-notice dispensation and to decide the terms of that notice period.
In that exceptional scenario, “TCs will consider each application on [its] own merits, but they will seek to adopt a supportive approach where both operators and LAs agree on the need,” says the document.
In Scotland, the TC will grant a short-notice dispensation with immediate effect if no request for more time is received from the LA during the seven-day notice period. Any emergency procedure north of the border should government guidance change is subject to the process being reviewed “at the earliest opportunity.”
In Wales – where there is no requirement to notify LAs – the existing 72-hour statutory notice period will continue. After its expiry, the temporary variation will be granted. No mention of any emergency process in Wales is made.
A further change will see the reintroduction across the board of the £60 fee for temporary variations received on or after 4 January 2021. Temporary variations accepted already and that were conditional on services returning to pre-pandemic timetables by the January 2021 date will be extended automatically.
Financial standing levels for 2021 confirmed
Separately, financial standing levels from 1 January 2021 have been confirmed. For a standard O-Licence, £8,200 will be required for the first vehicle. Each additional vehicle will need £4,550. Those figures represent an increase from £8,000 and £4,450, respectively, in 2020. The level for restricted O-Licences will remain the same: £3,100 for the first vehicle and £1,700 for each additional vehicle.