DfI/2019-0081: EIR Request for information on the Commercial Bus Service Permit system administered by the Department and about the accessibility of vehicles in the context of the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (NI) 2003 (PSVAR)

Date published: 30 August 2019

DfI/2019-0081: EIR Request for information on the Commercial Bus Service Permit system administered by the Department and about the accessibility of vehicles in the context of the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (NI) 2003 (PSVAR).

The specific request is as follows:


Under EIR regulations, 2004, could I request answers to the following:

Could you let me know if the changes to the Commercial operators application and renewal forms had been implemented yet? If so, can SPEC get a copy of the updated application form?

Can you clarify if the Department are making additional enquiries to ensure private operators of public transport routes are compliant with legislation and guidelines.

At our last meeting, DfI stated that they would take forward with Airporter the issues regarding wheelchair access on to their buses and find out how they will accommodate wheelchair users who cannot access their wheelchairs in order to board the bus as is currently the case.

It was noted at the meeting and in previous correspondence that Airporter is the only operator of a regular stopping service in the North who operates only with 16 seater buses which fall below the provisions of PSVAR regulations which defines a bus/coach as a vehicle with 22 seats or more. Guidelines from Dept of Transport in England have recommended that operators of smaller minibuses purchase the low step vehicles. Have you discussed this matter with Airporter? Can SPEC have a copy of all correspondence between DfI and Airporter since our last meeting?

Follow up email - 05 March

While we are waiting for a response, can you just clarify the concerns raised by SPEC in relation to wheelchair accessibility will be taken on board before a permit is renewed, given there is a fleet of 20 buses, not one of which can accommodate a passenger in a wheelchair?

I have looked at the NIDirect website and noted that the current application form has not yet been amended to include further questions regarding accessibility when a company indicates they do not operate with low floor buses so this is disappointing.

I have also reread the letter sent by Airporter to DfI Bus Permits on 8th May of 2018 and think that response is unsatisfactory both in terms of the language used and the assertions made:

In that email Airporter asserted:
‘Airporter operate a fleet of 20 Mercedes Sprinter vehicles (true) which are PSV’d to carry 16 passengers in total and are compliant under the terms of PSVAR and DDA’.

We can assume it is true that Airporter’s fleet has 20 buses but the last two assertions are questionable as it has already been established that there is a loop hole in the law which is allowing a private operator to runs a public service scheduled stopping route with buses who’s seating capacity falls below that required to meet PSVAR requirements of buses and coaches being defined as having 22 seats or more. This loophole needs to be addressed and the buses all need to be able to accommodate wheelchair passengers who cannot vacate their wheelchair.

SPEC would assert that these buses are definitely not compliant with DDA given that as a provider of a service that is supposed to be accessible to ALL members of the public, not just some. Airporter's current fleet of 20 buses cannot take wheelchairs into the bus itself and there is no evidence that Airporter has made any attempt to address this issue or determined what adjustments could be made to its fleet of buses which could be seen as ‘reasonable adjustments’ in order to accommodate wheelchair passengers. With this in mind, can I get clarification that you will ask these questions of Airporter and ask how they will make reasonable adjustments before issuing a new permit?

The following sentence is also disturbing. Airporter states ‘We have always ‘allowed’ and worked with wheelchair users to use the service and assist them onto the vehicle while storing the wheelchair in the boot’.

First, a provider of a public service to the general public does not get ‘to allow’ (or disallow) members of the public from using their service, they just have to make their service accessible to all members of the public under the terms of DDA. They state themselves they can only accommodate wheelchairs in the boot and assist wheelchair users on to the bus. This is unacceptable.

SPEC were very surprised to find out the Airporter was the only of 53 operators of Regular scheduled stopping services who had a full fleet of buses which could not accommodate wheelchairs within the body of the bus and were also below the PSVAR definition of a bus/coach and that it was the only company operating with a fleet of 16 seater buses. Now that the matter has been drawn to the attention of the Department, SPEC are hopeful that the anomalies will be addressed before the permit is reissued.

SPEC are also aware from correspondence with David Sterling that a meeting took place with DfI, Translink, Consumer Council , IMTAC and other interested stakeholders to discuss how to accommodate the half fare concessionary travel pass holders within the Glider system given that money was not to be exchanged with the driver. SPEC were delighted when the half fare categories were upgraded to deal with this and look forward to this upgrade being rolled out across the North. Does DfI envisage such a meeting being held regarding Airporter current inability to accommodate wheelchair users before a permit is reissued? And if so, can we request that representatives of SPEC get to attend this meeting also to put forward our view.

The only item of comfort in the email sent by Airporter to DfI permits on 8 May 2018 was their assertion that they renew their buses at the end of year 3 which we assume is coming up soon. This seems a fantastic opportunity for DfI to point Airporter in the direction of the 16 seater buses currently being used in England which have low floors and which can accommodate wheelchair users who cannot vacate their seats. It is SPEC’s understanding that IMTAC have already made a recommendation to the department that these buses should be explored and it is also our understanding that Department of Transport guidelines in England would stipulate that operators using 16 seater buses use the type that can accommodate wheelchair users (www.mellor-coachcraft.co.uk).

To reiterate, SPEC feels it is unacceptable to renew a commercial operators permit to a company running a public transport service that currently cannot accommodate wheelchair users within the bus and has apparently made no attempt to make any reasonable adjustments.


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