Get a grip on PSVAR, Minister



Exactly the form that PSVAR takes when the Minister finally decides next year is uncertain, but my strong feeling is that it will be a compromise which benefits very few people, least of all wheelchair users.

There’s a solid case for wheelchair accessibility for rail replacement services and express coaches, as truly public services. There is no guessing who’ll turn up and so every service must be prepared for wheelchair users. That’s not true of home-to-school services, contracted specifically for one group of customers. A school knows whether it needs wheelchair access, and for whom, ahead of the service being performed.

This is underlined by the way schools contract pupil transport, contracting WAVs separately to coaches carrying the other pupils. And as I have written before, here’s the problem. If schools and education authorities themselves divide their pupils into able-bodied and otherwise, how can there be inclusivity? If you prevent that happening, you resolve the PSVAR dilemma.

The fact is, each H2S service – each pupil, even – faces a different challenge. On some routes, there are no wheelchair users. On others, there is no way to use a wheelchair lift at the stop. Some operators will supply low-floor buses. Others will prefer coaches. These are localised demands which require localised solutions, not national rules. In my view, separately contracting WAVs should be stopped; each route should be one contract, and the number of wheelchair users notified in the tender. Bidders can then seek the best solution.

Let’s face it, if a H2S service can be done with one vehicle, it will be, as this will give the competitive advantage. It’s an entirely virtuous arrangement which gives operators and schools the leeway to be collaborative, innovative and practical.

My guess is that what we’ll end up with is an arbitrary quota of PSVAR vehicles required in every fleet, and in many cases, £30,000 wheelchair lifts which will rarely, if ever, get used. In the meantime, coach operators buying new touring coaches have no choice but to compromise them by specifying a wheelchair lift door, in the hope this will protect residuals.

Of course, no sooner has one ‘Buses Minister’ got to grips with the subject than he/she is gone, and we have to repeat the cycle.

So this is an appeal to Guy Opperman, this month’s ‘Buses Minister’, to get the DfT round the table and decide what it wants to do; not for another interim period, but for the next ten years, so the industry can realistically plan its fleet replacement policy. The industry is emphatically NOT against inclusivity. It’s against dithering.


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