Llanelli’s Member of the Senedd Lee Waters and MP Nia Griffith have expressed their disappointment with the Department For Transport (DfT) after a further exemption for school buses was denied.
The row concerns the implementation of new UK wide accessibility regulations. The Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulation (PSVAR) requires all large public vehicles to be wheelchair accessible, and has been gradually phased in since 2000. Last Autumn, children who used fare-paying ‘closed’ bus services to get to school found their routes had been withdrawn, as operators were unable to afford the costs of complying with PSVAR. This has been particularly damaging for rural communities that are within three miles of their local schools like Tumble.
In May, County Councillor Rob James (leader of the Labour group), Nia Griffith, and Lee Waters wrote a joint letter to Chris Heaton, UK Minister of State for Transport, calling for these services to be exempt from PSVAR for the next academic year until a sustainable solution could be found.
Mr Heaton however ruled out the possibility of another extension, writing that it would “disadvantage those operators which had already invested in compliant vehicles ahead of the final deadlines.”
The Minister went onto add that he would be “considering actively what further support might be appropriate to provide once the exemption for school and college arranged services expires on the 31st July.”
Lee Waters said “Converting the bus fleet was proving uneconomical before this crisis, now with COVID-19 it is almost impossible from a financial point of view, and the UK Government are fully aware of this. These are absolutely unprecedented circumstances, and having granted a similar exemption for all rail replacement services till the end of the year, we had hoped the DfT would do the same for our school children.”
The County Councillor for the Llannon ward, Dot Jones, said “I’m really worried for when the winter comes, and children through no fault of their own are not able to get to school safely or in dry clothes.”
Nia Griffith said “Parents are rightly concerned about the safe transportation of their children right now, and this situation will not have gone away by September. We fully support measures to include wheelchair users on all public transport, but the DfT must also recognise that the unintended consequences of PSVAR are punishing those parents and pupils left with no alternative mode of transport.”
“We recognise the huge pressures COVID-19 has put on council services, and the harsh economic picture facing local bus companies which were already struggling before the pandemic. We will continue to put pressure on the DfT regarding an exemption, and will be calling on Carmarthenshire County Council to prioritise school transport in the months ahead.”