Response to Consultation on Accessible Information Provision

Bus Services Act 2017: accessible information

Here are our responses to the questions raised in the DfT Consultation Document

 Personal details
Q1. Your name and email address. We will only use this if we need to contact you to ask
about any of your responses.
Name James Davies

Q2. Are you responding:
on behalf of an organisation?

Organisation details
Q3. Name of organisation
Lancaster District Bus Users' Group
Q4. Type of organsation
Bus Passenger Representative Group

Extent of regulations and information to be provided
Q5. We have reflected the priorities of Scottish and Welsh stakeholders in our plans, and propose that the Accessible Information Regulations should apply consistently across Great Britain. Do you agree that the Accessible Information Regulations should apply consistently across England, Scotland and Wales?
Please explain your answer.
Although we are a User Group concerned with issues surrounding bus travel in Lancaster alone, we do recognise that our members – and others – travel widely throughout Great Britain and will therefore expect to find a common standard of provision of accessible information on buses throughout England, Wales and Scotland (and for that matter Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man) We recognise, however, that Wales
and Scotland have their own governments and are slowly, but surely, diverging from England in a number of ways. The most visible aspect of this as far as buses are concerned is of course in the provision of concessionary travel for elderly and disabled persons, which is not common throughout the UK. Standardsof information and information provision generally (timetables, maps, fares) vary enormously even within England and it is therefore important that a common standard of accessible information provision be
established to prevent replication of the unsatisfactory position concerning other aspects of bus information. There will, no doubt, be a requirement for accessible information in Wales (and perhaps parts of Scotland) to be provided additionally in Welsh (or Gaelic) but this should not impact on the development of simple and affordable systems in England. This will be of particular importance to operators that provide services that cross national borders.

Q6. Do you agree that the core proposal is an appropriate response to the need for change
identified in this document?
Please explain your answer.
We support the Core Proposal and agree with the need for accessible information to be made available to all passengers so as to remove existing barriers to travel. Although the proposed information requirements are likely to be of most benefit to passengers for sight and hearing difficulties they will also be of significant advantage to new passengers and those travelling on unfamiliar routes. As such they are likely to increase patronage and help to offset the costs of providing the systems. The proposal recognises and attempts to
deal with the problems that this may cause certain bus operators. We agree that a legislative approach will be necessary and are pleased to see that such an approach will be designed to minimise negative impacts on smaller operators by phasing-in the requirements and by giving smaller operators more time to comply than larger ones.

Q7. Do you agree that the proposed list of required information is an appropriate use of the powers available?
Please explain your answer.
We support the proposal insofar as it would require the provision of audio/visual on-board information concerning the name or designation of the local service and the direction of travel. In para 1.8 of section 3 of the document we would suggest that instead of “operators would be free to choose both the descriptor and the manner in which it is framed” the regulations should require operators to use the National Public Transport Access Nodes (NaPTAN) database stop names and that these should be described in a
standard manner (e.g. “The next stop is . . . . “) This would remove the potential for confusion with different operators using different names for common points that already occurs in printed and on-line publicity and would provide a standard and readily-understood message for passengers throughout the country.

Uncertainty – the fear of being on the wrong bus or waiting (or alighting) at the wrong stop - is a major barrier to bus travel. At present it is not uncommon for bus stops to be given different names by different operators or councils and for these variations to occur across different forms of information. Requiring operators to use the standard, nationally-agreed bus stop descriptors would form a basis for standardisation across all areas of information provision. We would also support the proposal to identify each stopping point along the route but would suggest that rather than requiring the information to be
provided “immediately preceding the point at which it is reached” it should be done so “with sufficient notice to allow the passenger to inform the driver that they wish to alight.” It would be advantageous if information on the next two or three stops could be given in visual (but not audio) format as is already done by certain operators. This would reduce anxiety amongst passengers unfamiliar with the route that they are approaching their destination. Paras 1.10 and 1.11 propose that information be made available at
the points at which a bus begins and ends a diversion to the usual route. In practice, there is a difference between planned diversions, where the diversionary route will have been arranged in advance and unplanned or emergency diversions. In the latter case drivers are often required to find their own way around a road closure and the alternative route will not be known in advance. The proposed regulations should therefore recognise the difference between scheduled and unscheduled diversions. If and when information on connecting services is required to be provided then the requirement should cover the
services of all operators and not just those of the operator concerned.

Timing of information provision and quality of information
Q8. Do you agree that the proposed information timing requirements are appropriate?
Please explain your answer.
We agree that Information iden tifying the route and direction of travel of the vehicle is only required at scheduled stops where the front passenger door is open. We would, however, question the value of providing this information in this way rather than at the bus stop itself. We would go further and suggest that this particular information is of most use to passengers waiting to board the bus and therefore need only be provided so that it can be heard by boarding passengers and that it need not be repeated throughout the vehicle, where constant repetition could distract or annoy passengers already on the bus.
Information on approaching stops should be provided in sufficient time to allow the passenger to indicate a wish to alight so as to give the driver sufficient notice to stop the vehicle. In this context there would be an advantage in giving visual (but not audio) information concerning the next two or three stops as is already practiced by certain operators (i.e. Nottingham City Transport). The requirements for provision of information on diversionary routes should recognise the different nature of planned and unplanned (i.e. emergency) diversions.

Q9. Do you agree that the proposed use of a 'specimen person' is the most appropriate
way to ensure information provision is of an adequate quality to be useful to passengers?
Please explain your answer.
We would agree that the use of a Specimen Person is the most appropriate way to ensure information provision is of adequate quality for the reasons given in the consultation document.

Q10. Do you agree that the information provision quality requirements should require that a person using a hearing aid together with an audible induction loop system should be able to discern audible information?
Please explain your answer.
We would agree that the regulations should require that a person using a hearing aid in conjunction with an audible induction loop system should be able to discern audible information for the reasons given in the consultation document

Use of technology and exemptions
Q11. Do you agree that it would currently be inappropriate to require passengers to
purchase or possess smart devices in order to access required information?
Please explain your answer.
It would be completely inappropriate. Requiring passengers to purchase or even to use a freely-supplied device to access the information would put the onus on the passenger to provide or manage the means of access to the information and at least partially remove the requirement from the bus operator to do so.
Irrespective of current or future ownership and use of smart devices the requirement to provide the required information in the required formats should remain solely with the bus operator.

Q12. Do you agree that services operated under Section 19 and 22 permits should be
exempt from the requirements in full?
Please explain your answer.
We agree that where rural serv ices are provided by small vehicles under a permit regime then an exemption could be given. Such services carry almost exclusively local and regular passengers and the nature of the vehicles does allow occasional or visually-impaired travellers to ask for and receive advice from the driver in a meaningful way (although hearing-impaired passengers still could not do so). Section 19 permit services cannot usually be “local bus services” and would therefore fall outside the proposed
regulations anyway. Section 22 Permits, however, allow full-size buses to be operated, subject to authorisation by the Traffic Commissioner, and any exemption offered to Section 22 Permit holders should be restricted to vehicles designed to carry fewer than 17 passengers. (However, see our response to Q 13 below.)

Q13. Do you agree that vehicles designed to carry fewer than 17 passengers should be
exempt from the requirements in full?
Please explain your answer.
Any exemption offered would need to be carefully worded.
Bus operators wishing to find a means to avoid the perceived burden of the regulations could remove the requisite number of seats to do so in the same way that some have removed seating from larger minibuses so as to avoid complying with the PSV Accessibility Regulations 2000 concerning low floo access etc.

In certain areas of the country outside London there has been a resurgence in the practice of operating high-frequency urban services using smaller vehicles, often below the 17-seat threshold. It would be completely inappropriate for such services not to be covered by the regulations. A lower seating threshold would be more appropriate in such cases. We would, however, accept that on certain bus services that are operated by smaller buses the nature of the service and the way in which it operates – with passengers and drivers being known to one another and very few “outsiders” ever carried - an
exemption would be appropriate. We would suggest therefore that in addition to a maximum passenger capacity a maximum service level for the service concerned (of probably not more than one or two return
journeys per day) should apply.

Q14. Do you agree that tour services, as defined in the Public Service Vehicles
Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) should be exempt from the requirements in full?
Please explain your answer.
Yes. It is common sense.

Q15. Do you agree that heritage vehicles should be exempt from the requirement to provide visible information? and that heritage vehicles should be defined as those first used before 1 January 1973? 
a) Yes b)No
Please explain your answer.
a)So-called “heritage” vehicles do not meet the requirements of the PSV Accessibility Regulations 2000 and cannot therefore be used on local bus services for more than 20 days a year. In practice, where they are so used, the purpose of the service is generally to provide passengers with the experience of riding on a heritage vehicle rather than to get from A to B We would therefore agree that the requirement to provide visual information is inappropriate and unnecessary, but would go further and suggest that audio information is not required either. Requiring the driver to supply audio next-stop information as suggested would have safety implications given the number of announcements – and the responsibility of identifying stops by the correct names – that would have to be made. 

b)The cut-off date of 1st January 1973 to qualify for the exemption is a curious choice. Such vehicles are already more than 45 years old and will be over 50 by the time the regulations are fully-implemented. History, however, did not stop in 1973 and buses
from the 1980s and even the 1990s regularly appear as “heritage vehicles” in museums and at events. As time goes on newer and newer vehicles will be considered as meriting “heritage” status by younger generations. A visual display and audio speakers would be just as intrusive on a vehicle constructed in,say, 1983 as one built ten years earlier. Clearly there has to be a cut-off date for the proposed exemption and we would suggest 1st January 2001, this being the date when the PSV Accessibility Regulations 2000
came into force.

Implementation timescales and cost / benefit analysis
Q16. We have identified option A as our preferred option. Do you agree that
implementation option A is the most appropriate of the 3 options identified?
Please explain your answer.
Yes. This option is the most balanced and proportionate approach.

Q17. Do you agree with our proposal to define 'small operators' as those operating 20 or fewer vehicles?
Please explain your answer.
The proposed definition of a “small operator” is one that “operates” 20 or fewer vehicles. We feel that this needs to be clarified in two respects: 1) Some operators hold licences that allow them to operate more vehicles than they actually require to cover the number of vehicles they actually operate and own. This allows them to react quickly to increase the scope and scale of their operation when opportunity arises.
Basing the definition of “small” on the number of vehicles licensed might therefore result in operators being classified as “large” when in practice they operate fewer than 21 buses. 2) A distinction should be drawn between total vehicles operated and those vehicles within that total that are usable on local bus services.
A not uncommon feature of the bus industry outside London and major cities is the “large” coach operator (i.e. more than 20 vehicles) with an extensive coaching operation which also operates a small number of local bus services, often under contract to the local authority, which require fewer than 20 buses. There is a danger that requiring such an operator to comply with the regulations in the same way as a “large” bus
operator will lead to them reducing or even abandoning the marginal part of their business that is involved in bus operation with serious cost implications for local authorities seeking to replace the services withdrawn. The definition of a “small” operator should therefore take into account the number of vehicles operated and the number of registered local bus services provided.