Spare seats scheme
Following a review of legislation we have so far been unable to offer any spare seats on our school contract vehicles.
We have now secured exemptions to allow spare seats to be sold in some cases (updated 11 March 2020).
This means we will be able to offer spare seats where:
- there is spare capacity on a vehicle that is smaller than 22 seats, and;
- there is spare capacity on a vehicle which has over 22 seats (and has been granted exemption) and no more than 20% of the seats will be allocated for sale
Why have spare seats not been available this academic year?
Our ability to sell seats on a school bus is determined by the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) which are set in law. Although the PSVAR have been set in law for some time, as with a lot of legislation, legal opinion on how it applies can change over time. We became aware that the commonly applied interpretation, by most local authorities up and down the country, of these regulations was potentially open to challenge in light of changing legal opinion.
In response to this, we are looking at options available regarding the sale of spare seats going forward and a decision is expected to be made towards the end of this academic year. In the meantime, we are able to offer spare seats where we are able to comply with the legislation.
A public service vehicle means any vehicle that can carry nine or more passengers. These regulations state that vehicles with more than 22 seats must meet strict accessibility criteria, including provision of wheelchair access, if any seats are being sold separately.
Previously we offered to sell spare seats on any school transport where they were available.
It is the parents or guardians responsibility to ensure that children are able to get to school, and this remains the case whilst the situation is being reviewed.
Please be advised that where we are able to sell spare seats, this does not guarantee a seat for the whole year. The usual terms and conditions of the scheme will still apply, ie. if the seat is no longer available it can be withdrawn at short notice. It is important to have considered alternative arrangements should a vacant seat not be available.
Why couldn’t more, smaller vehicles be provided so that all requests can be accommodated?
The spare seat scheme is available for parents/ carers to apply for spare seats for their children where they are not entitled to school transport.
The scheme works by selling seats on existing school routes where there are spare seats on a contracted vehicle. Contracts are awarded following a competitive tender process to the operator who offers the best option and value for money, these contracts are regularly reviewed to ensure they are cost effective. To replace routes with smaller vehicles would increase the cost of existing contracts. We have no statutory requirement to offer a spare seat scheme and would therefore be unable to fund any additional costs for services.
What are we doing about the issues around spare seats due to PSVAR?
It appears that PSVAR applying to school contracts is an unintended consequence of how the regulations were drafted. We have engaged with central government, along with other local authorities, to secure extensions to the application of these regulations to allow time for our contracts and operators to comply, and to advise of the impact overall.