ORR updates guidance to improve disabled passengers’ experience on rail replacement services

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The Office of Rail and Road’s new accessible travel guidance has been published today.

This sees new rules for train operators to maximise the use of available buses and coaches by disabled passengers during rail disruption.

There is also requirement for improved information so passengers know where and when accessible vehicles will be operated.

The vast majority of buses used for rail replacement are accessible to people with physical impairment (for example, equipped with low floors and/or ramps for wheelchair users), but historically the opposite has been true of coaches (where a wheelchair lift is required).

As regulator, ORR expects all train operators to take appropriate steps to comply with Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) and is working with the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) which enforces these regulations. 

Both organisations are planning a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to clarify and strengthen the respective monitoring and compliance activities. 

Following consultation and detailed discussions with stakeholders including the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, ORR’s revised guidance now requires:

  • New rules to ensure that train operators using rail replacement services seek to secure accessible vehicles from bus and coach companies; 
  • Improved passenger information during disruption to ensure passengers know where and when accessible buses and coaches will be operated; 
  • Reinforcement of an existing requirement that where needed, passengers are offered an appropriate alternative arrangement, including a different form of accessible road transport such as a taxi;
  • For planned disruption, ORR has introduced a new requirement that waiting times for rail replacement services should be similar, irrespective of whether the vehicle used is a bus, coach, taxi or other alternative; and
  • Explicit references to the legal requirement for rail replacement bus and coach services to comply with Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) unless a special authorisation is obtained from the Transport Minister.

Stephanie Tobyn, Deputy Director, Consumers at ORR said:

"ORR’s objective is to ensure that all passengers can request and receive assistance to travel safely with confidence and ease. 

"Our updated guidance makes clear that train companies are responsible for obtaining accessible vehicles during rail disruption, and for providing passengers with useful information on where and when accessible vehicles will be used. In all circumstances, whether the vehicle used is a bus, coach or taxi, waiting times for passengers should be similar. 

"We have also written to the rail industry setting out a range of additional proposals and suggestions for further improvements from respondents to our public consultation, as well as our proposal for an industry forum to help identify and better manage the availability and use of PSVAR-compliant vehicles at times of high demand."

Notes to editors
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  1. This consultation followed initial legal advice commissioned by ORR in September, which concluded that the regulations that ensure buses, and in certain circumstances coaches, are accessible to disabled people apply equally to rail replacement services. There were 49 responses to the consultation 
  2. On 30 April 2020 Minister of State for Transport, Chris Heaton-Harris MP published a letter responding to the Rail Delivery Group plan “Rail Replacement Vehicles – a pathway to regulatory compliance”. 
    Following earlier special authorisation to operators of buses and coaches used in rail services permitting them run non PSVAR-compliant vehicles from January to April 2020, the letter set out his decision to grant further special authorisations for up to eight months.
  3. PSVAR is enforced by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), and ensures that disabled people, and in particular wheelchair users, are able to access the same local and scheduled bus and coach services as persons who do not have a disability or persons whose disability gives rise to different needs.
  4. Link to revised guidance.