28 September 2009

Deadlines looming

2017 isn't that far off - certainly not in the minds of local bus operators here in the UK, for it is at the start of this year that ALL double-deck buses need to conform to the minimum standards as laid out in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA)

The following time scale has been conformed to thus far, though it is the 2017 date that is likely to be the biggest hurdle for operators to meet:

1. From 31 December 2000, all new, full-size single-deck buses in excess of 7.5 tonnes and new double-deck buses had to be accessible to disabled people, including those in an unfolded wheelchair. By the same date all new buses weighing up to 7.5 tonnes and new coaches had to offer improved access for ambulant and sensory impaired passengers

From 1 January 2005, all new buses weighing up to 7.5 tones and new coaches had to be wheelchair accessible.

From 1 January 2015, all buses weighing up to 7.5 tonnes must be fully accessible.

From 1 January 2016, all full-size single-deck buses over 7.5 tonnes must be accessible to disabled people.

From 1 January 2017, all double-deck buses must be accessible to disabled people.

6. From 1 January 2020, all coaches must be fully accessible to disabled people.

The above conformities only apply to Public Carrying Vehicles used on local or scheduled services, which can carry more than 22 passengers.

But what does the 2017 milestone actually mean? If you assumed it spells the end to the good old Volvo Olympian, for example, then you'd be wrong. 'Fully accessible' doesn't mean 'low-floor, one-step entry'. The full regulations make for interesting reading. They're pretty heavy going, but confirm what we've long been told that floors do not have to be a certain colour, nor do hand poles. A link to the regulations is at the end of this post.

The fitting of an electronic lift to the centre of a Volvo Olympian, for example, is effectively all that needs doing to make it conform to the DDA standard. Obviously, within the lower saloon a couple of additional hand poles will need fitting and a 'communication device' (bell) so the disabled passenger can alert the driver to a problem/his or her stop to alight, and that's about it.

It's a fallacy, for example, to think the wheelchair symbol depicted here has to be a white symbol on a blue background. So long as the symbol is shown (in the proportion as that above), it can be any colour you like.

If you've taken pride in your fleet and don't want to be forced to sell it on by 2017, the retrospective fitment of a mid-vehicle wheelchair lift may well be the cheaper option than buying new. You can be sure of a sudden rush on second-hand low-floor buses immediately prior to 2017 (or 2016 for single-deckers) and that this will inflate their cost.

Take hand poles: they simply do not have to be orange or silver. Read the regulations and you'll see colour is not mentioned at all. Spray them all black if you like.

There is also the prospect of the 2017 date being put back following the downturn in the economy. Operators both large and small are being forced to scale back their purchases of new vehicles, which in turn is leading to wholescale redundancies by the vehicle manufacturers. If the economy doesn't pick up soon and multi-nationals don't revert to placing large orders of new vehicles, there is a very real chance the industry may not physically be able to conform. (GL)

The Public Service Vehicles' Accessibility Regulations 2000