Jul 152016
 

On the way home from the Yorkshire Show on Tuesday, this happened:

To cut a long story short, I caught a single deck bus that had no wheelchair ramp or wheelchair space.

I thought that was illegal because all single deck buses must be accessible as of 1st January 2016. This is set out in S175 of the Equality Act 2010 as explained by Regulation 3(2) of the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000. However there’s an interesting exemption; Regulation 4(f) states that a vehicle need not comply provided it is:

a vehicle in respect of which twenty years have elapsed since the date of its first use on a road and which is not used to provide a local service or a scheduled service for more than 20 days in any calendar year.

This could create the silly anomaly that if the bus was (say) 19 years and 6 months old, it would be illegal to use it between 1st January 2016 and its 20th birthday, after which it could be used on up to 20 days per year. But as the bus was 20 years and 3 months old, this isn’t the case.

The bus operator told me that they had to put this bus on due to a bus breaking down and others being stuck in traffic. It’s not in regular use on their bus routes. So as long as the bus is used for 20 days or less each year, it is legal for the bus company to use it – even though it isn’t wheelchair accessible.

The question is: what counts as use?

The bus operator’s website says it is used “on schools. Hansard tells me whether a school bus is subject to the accessibility regulations depends on whether the vehicle is “operated for hire and reward“, which is defined by “whether any passengers are carried as separate fares (which includes payment for the right to travel as part of a larger payment)“, and indeed “On a bus provided by the local authority or bus operator, provided that a fare is paid, even if only by some of the students when others are entitled to free transport, the vehicle would be a PSV.” It is not a Public Service Vehicle, and thus not subject to the accessibility regulations, “provided that the passengers made no contribution to the cost of travel and no contribution was made on their behalf“.

The bus operator has a list of its bus services on its website. It runs school buses for two authoritiesMetro (West Yorkshire) and North Yorkshire.

  • All Metro school buses charge per pupil (unless family financial circumstances mean the pupil is entitled to free transport.)
  • Some North Yorkshire school buses take both permits and fares.
  • But some North Yorkshire school buses are permit only.

One may consider that “permit only” school buses paid for by North Yorkshire County Council aren’t “for hire or reward” because no “passengers are carried as separate fares“. However North Yorkshire County Council has a scheme by which pupils can buy travel permits if they aren’t entitled to assistance with transport costs. Further,

In some cases assistance may be provided for ineligible children if there are spare seats available on existing school buses however, parents will be expected to pay a contribution towards costs.

It’s therefore clear that there are likely to be passengers for whom a contribution to the cost of their individual travel has been made on every service run by the bus firm, including all school bus services. If the company had already used the bus I caught for any of these services on at least 20 days this year, then both the company and whichever manager chose to use it for my journey have committed a crime and can be prosecuted. Each could be held liable for a fine up to £2,500.00 and incur a criminal record.

All of which obscure technical red tape pussy-foots round the core underlying issues. I have been lambasted on Twitter by the bus operator (who told me last January that all their buses are accessible but have now deleted all relevant tweets and blocked me) and two apparatchiks who claim I’m being unreasonable and am legally incorrect.

Yet:

  • it’s perfectly reasonable to expect bus services to be acceptable
  • it is morally reprehensible to run inaccessible services
  • the bus operator bought this inaccessible bus in December 2014
  • the Disability Discrimination Act, which announced the forthcoming accessibility requirement, was made in 1995
  • the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations, which set the dates and details of compliance, was made in 2000.

I’ve therefore complained to the Police, the Traffic Commissioners, North Yorkshire County Council and to West Yorkshire Metro.

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