A government transport agency lied when it claimed it had no evidence of transport operators using a loophole to avoid legal obligations to ensure their buses were accessible to disabled people, new evidence has proved.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) – which is responsible for ensuring that bus and coach operators comply with regulations on transport accessibility – had previously told Disability News Service (DNS) that it had “no evidence” that such practices were taking place.
But now DVSA’s response to a freedom of information request submitted by disabled campaigner Doug Paulley (pictured) has proved that the agency did know of such cases.
Access laws state that all buses and coaches have to meet the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) – which date back to 2000 – but coaches have until January 2020 to comply, while all single-deck buses have had to comply since January this year.
The regulations require vehicles to have a wheelchair space and boarding facilities, priority seating, colour-contrasting step edges, and other features “to enable disabled passengers to travel in comfort and safety”.
But one of the ways that companies are dodging the regulations is by simply removing the hanging straps in buses, placing “no standing” signs in their vehicles, and then applying for new carrying capacity certificates to authorise them to operate as coaches rather than buses.
DVSA has now been forced to pass Paulley an internal email in which a senior manager says a colleague has told him that DVSA “has no evidence to suggest that operators are trying to circumvent the rules in this way.
“Recent formal communications with the trade have also maintained this line.”
But he then adds: “We are aware of a few vehicles being modified and having VTP5s [forms notifying DVSA of an alteration to a public service vehicle]submitted to have standing capacity removed (by removal of hanging straps and stanchions) to avoid PSVAR, but not in significant numbers.
“We don’t keep specific statistics unfortunately.”
DVSA had previously told DNS that the agency had “no evidence to suggest that operators are flouting PSVAR” in this way.
This week, a DVSA spokesman said: “DVSA has no evidence to suggest that operators are trying to avoid complying with Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations.
“We will investigate all reports and take action against any operator who does not adhere to the rules.”
When DNS asked how she justified saying this when DVSA’s own freedom of information response made it clear that there was some evidence of such activity by bus operators, Sarah Maddock, DVSA’s head of corporate communications, said the information in the email was just the “personal view” of a member of staff.
Paulley said: “It is sad to see a government agency being so transparently disingenuous. One has to wonder what they are attempting to gain by this approach.”