Bus Services in NI operating with vehicles that do no meet Bus Accessibility Regulations

Robert Laverty made this Rhyddid Gwybodaeth request to Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)

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Yn disgwyl am adolygiad mewnol gan Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland) o'u triniaeth o'r cais hwn.

Dear Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland),

The Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 clearly highlights the requirement for the Department to ensure that public passenger transport services are accessible.

Part 1 (PUBLIC PASSENGER TRANSPORT SERVICES) Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, Provision of public passenger transport services, states “The Department must secure the provision of public passenger transport services with due regard to accessibility”.

The Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 states:
“Schedule 2 General Accessibility Requirements for Single-Deck and Double-Deck Buses
Floor and gangways
2.—(1) All floors within the total floor area of a regulated public service vehicle shall be slip-resistant.
(2) A regulated public service vehicle shall contain a priority floor area which shall–
(a) not contain steps.”

The definition of a Bus Service is laid out in the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 and states:
“bus service” means a service available to the general public for the carriage of
passengers by road at separate fares, on which there is available to any passenger
a journey of such length—
(i) that he is set down at a place less than 30 miles, measured in a straight line, from the place where he was taken up; and
(ii) that no point on the route between those places is 30 miles or more, measured in a straight line, from either of those places; and does not include any part of a service as regards which taken in isolation from the whole the aforesaid requirements as to the available length of journey are not satisfied.

I note FOI responses confirm some 14% of the Ulsterbus fleet are not buses and are instead coaches that do contain steps and do not have a priority floor area.

These vehicles, therefore, do not meet the accessibility requirements for a vehicle required to operate a bus service in Northern Ireland. This despite the fact that the Service Agreement Translink holds with the Department is only for rail and bus services only. There are no services awarded within the Service Agreement for which a coach, rather than a bus, meet the required accessibility regulations.

I also note that Translink advise on its website that not all of its bus services are operated by bus vehicles with the required accessible priority floor area without steps. "If you require an accessible bus for other routes you should contact us at least 24 hours before you wish to travel so we can make arrangements."

Large numbers of Translink / Ulsterbus bus services are in fact operated by coaches with steps at the point of access.

I would like the Department to provide the precise legal and regulatory basis upon which it permits Translink / Ulsterbus to operate publicly-funded bus services with coach vehicles with steps at the entrance and that do not meet the NI accessibility regulations for General Accessibility Requirements for Single-Deck and Double-Deck Buses.

I would also like the Department to provide information relating to the rationale it follows in providing public funding to Translink to purchase coaches when its Service Agreement is limited to bus services.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Laverty

DFI PTDDSO, Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)

1 Atodiad

Mr Laverty,

Please see attached.

Thanks

 

Geraldine Finnegan on behalf of Stuart Gilmore

Public Transport Division, Department for Infrastructure

Room 3-29

Clarence Court

Belfast

BT2 8GB

Telephone: 028 9054 0077

Email: [1][email address]

 

 

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

DFI PTDDSO, Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)

1 Atodiad

Mr Laverty,

 

Please see attached.

 

 

Kind regards

 

Ann marie

Public Transport Division, Department for Infrastructure

Room 3-29

Clarence Court

Belfast

BT2 8GB

Email: [1][email address]

 

 

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[email address]

Dear Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland),

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)'s handling of my FOI request 'Bus Services in NI operating with vehicles that do no meet Bus Accessibility Regulations'.

I had requested the information below to be provided:

1. “I would like the Department to provide the precise legal and regulatory
basis upon which it permits Translink / Ulsterbus to operate publicly-funded
bus services with coach vehicles with steps at the entrance and that do not
meet the NI accessibility regulations for General Accessibility
Requirements for Single-Deck and Double-Deck Buses.”

2. “I would also like the Department to provide information relating to the
rationale it follows in providing public funding to Translink to purchase
coaches when its Service Agreement is limited to bus services.”

The response provided stated;

“In response to your request, I can confirm that the basis on which you have based your questions is incorrect and I can therefore not provide a direct answer to your questions. The definition you have provided for a Bus Service has been taken from the Finance Act (NI) 1966. This definition is for use only in the relevant section of the act for the provision of “Grants towards customs or excise duty charged on fuel used in operating bus service”. This definition of a bus service does not extend to any other legislative areas and does not apply to the Public Service Agreement signed with Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (NITHCo). Translink are in full compliance with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) (NI) 2003 with all vehicles in its fleet.”

The response provided states that the legal definition of a ‘Bus Service’ (within Northern Ireland) as defined in The Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 relates only to the provision of “Grants towards customs or excise duty charged on fuel used in operating bus service”. This statement is not correct. The statement has been used, however, as pretext to not provide the information requested.

The definition of a ‘Bus Service’ has been in continual and widespread usage within relevant legislation since 1966. The definition has been used in legislation in relation to, but not limited to, definition of Stage Services (Now Regular Stopping Services), Penalty Fares, Minimum Fares, PSV Regulations, etc

Notwithstanding the above, the two items of information requested could and should have been provided.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/b...

Yours faithfully,

Robert Laverty

DfI Information Management Unit, Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)

Dear Mr Laverty

 

Thank you for your email.

 

The Departmental Information Manager will conduct an internal review
(reconsideration under EIR) and respond in due course.

 

Thank you.

 

Hugh Murnaghan

DfI Information Management Unit

 

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

DfI Information Management Unit, Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Laverty

 

Please see the attached, issued on behalf of the DfI Departmental
Information Manager.

 

Thank you.

 

Hugh Murnaghan

DfI Information Management Unit

Dear Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland),

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)'s handling of my FOI request 'Bus Services in NI operating with vehicles that do no meet Bus Accessibility Regulations'.

The response provided contains a number of inaccuracies. Your reference: DFI/2020-0301 (Dated 1st February 2021)

You seek to argue that:

1. the definition of a “Bus Service” included in the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 does not extend beyond that Act and that the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 did not adopt the definition of Bus Service included in the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966;

2. the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 definition of “Bus Service” that identified ‘bus services that would be allowed fuel duty rebates did not include most of what, today, forms the Ulsterbus Goldline Express network’; and

3. while the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 specify separately and in detail Bus (SCHEDULE 2) and Coach (SCHEDULE 3) accessibility requirements, the Department’s view as regulator and local competent authority is that there is no definition available to it to determine which accessibility standard ought to apply to bus services within Northern Ireland and that all public passenger transport services by road may be operated solely with high-floor coaches with no priority seating should the operator choose to do so.

For completeness I shall expand upon the points above.

Point 1
The response provided attempts to argue that the definition of a Bus Service included in the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 does not extend beyond that Act or the limited area regarding defraying of customs or excise duty in fuel used in operating a bus service, and that the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 did not adopt the definition of “Bus Service” included in the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966.

In fact, the contrary is true. The definition of a “Bus Service“ included in the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 has been in continual and wide spread use as the only definition of a “Bus Service“ within Northern Ireland since the definition was introduced in the 1966 Act. The 1966 Act definition remains the only definition of a “Bus Service” in Northern Ireland.

The 1966 Act “Bus Service“ definition has been used in relation to fares, penalty fares, seatbelt regulations, etc. Importantly, the 1966 Act definition was also used as the definition of what was a “Stage Carriage Service“ prior to that service class being later replaced with “Regular Stopping Services“ pursuant to Public Passenger Transport (Service Agreements and Service Permits) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015.

Your response states:

“I would not infer that the definition of bus service from this [Finance Act 1966] Act, which was intended solely for the purpose of allowing defraying of “customs or excise duty in fuel used in operating… [bus] services”, must be applied in all future legislation, even where that legislation contains different definitions, dealing with scheduled passenger services by road.”

There is no inference required. The Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 (SCHEDULE 1) explicitly amends the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 definition of a “Bus Service” so that it specifically reflects the terms ‘Service Agreement’ and ‘Service Permit’ introduced by the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. The 2011 Act makes no other changes to the definition of a Bus Service.

For your convenience I have included a link below to a copy of the amended Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966.
https://www.legislation.gov.uk/apni/1966...

The Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 also explicitly lists Repeals (SCHEDULE 2) namely: The Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 7 (c. 37), The Transport (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 (NI 10), The General Consumer Council (Northern Ireland) Order 1984 (NI 12), The Transport (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990 (NI 7) and The Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (c. 4).

You will note there is no repeal within the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 relating to any article, section, point or paragraph of the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. Nor are there any repeals relating to the 1966 Act definition of a Bus Service listed in any other Northern Ireland legislation. Again, I would refer you to the above link to the amended Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966.

It is interesting to note that, in contrast to the above, you later go on to state “If the PSVAR intended to define a “bus service” as the 1966 Act did, it would have restated that definition as part of the Regulations”.

The Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 does restate and appropriately amend the definition of a Bus Service included in the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 and that definition remains both valid and the only legal definition of what constitutes a “Bus Service“ within Northern Ireland.

Point 2
You argue that the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 definition of “Bus Service” that identified ‘bus services that would be allowed fuel duty rebates did not include most of what, today, forms the Ulsterbus Goldline Express network’.

The purpose of the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 was to amend the law relating to, among others, the payment of grants to operators of bus services towards the defrayal of customs or excise duty charged on fuel used in operating such services. To this end the Act species a definition of a Bus Service.

“ bus service ” means a service available to the general public for the carriage of passengers by road at separate fares, on which there is available to any passenger a journey of such length—
(i)that he is set down at a place less than 30 miles, measured in a straight line, from the place where he was taken up; and
(ii)that no point on the route between those places is 30 miles or more, measured in a straight line, from either of those places;
and does not include any part of a service as regards which taken in isolation from the whole the aforesaid requirements as to the available length of journey are not satisfied.

You noted that the quoted definition I had previously provided had not included the final paragraph. The purpose of this paragraph is to exclude the common practise of ‘joint services’ (where a service consists of one or more parts) claiming part of a service as a “Bus Service” when taken as a whole it would not otherwise meet the definition. This is common across UK.

Citing the definition of a Bus Service, your response states “the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 was identifying bus services that would be allowed fuel duty rebates it was extending the scope of the Act only to services within a thirty mile radius of the start and end points of the bus service.”

On a point of accuracy, the understanding you have arrived at regarding the Bus Services definition only applying to “services within a thirty mile radius of the start and end points of the bus service” is incorrect. The route of the service can be of any length provding the stopping pattern for passenger journeys is met. Again, this is common across UK but with GB having a 15-mile rather than 30-mile threshold.

However, the significant phrase in your response stated “The Act did not include, within its definition of a bus service, most of what, today, forms the Ulsterbus Goldline Express network”

The huge difficulty with this response is that for years and right up until 31 March 2015, Translink claimed Fuel Duty Rebate on every operational mile (including empty or positioning miles) for every one of its Goldline services operating within Northern Ireland based entirely upon the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 “Bus Service“ definition.

I have previously sought through a number of FOI requests, both from your Department and Translink, detail on the number of miles for which Fuel Duty Rebate was claimed and received in successive financial years.

The information received is consistent across each response provided separately by DfI (and DRD) and Translink. The data has been made available in both summary format (period totals) and detailed formats (by Depot, period and Service Number). The data very clearly shows that millions of pounds in Fuel Duty Rebate was claimed by Translink for its Goldline services.

Additionally, from a financial audit trail point of view it is fairy easy to follow the public money claimed by Translink as Fuel Duty Rebate and handed over by DfI based on the total service miles submitted – total miles that included all of its Goldline services operating within Northern Ireland.

It is difficult to understand how the Department has arrived at such a view and included it within an FOI response.

If it is the Departments “common understanding” is that the “The Act [Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966] did not include, within its definition of a bus service, most of what, today, forms the Ulsterbus Goldline Express network” upon what basis did Translink claim and subsequently receive millions of pounds in Fuel Duty Rebate over many years for its entire Northern Ireland Goldline service?

Point 3
Your response contends that while the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 specify separately and in detail Bus (SCHEDULE 2) and Coach (SCHEDULE 3) accessibility requirements, the Department’s view as regulator and local competent authority is that there is no definition available to it to determine which accessibility standard ought to apply to bus services or bus routes within Northern Ireland.

The obvious implication if this were held to be true is that there are in effect no bus accessibility regulations within Northern Ireland and no regulation that would prevent all public passenger transport services by road being operated exclusively with high-floor coaches with no priority seating.

The Department’s understanding would appear to be when it comes to bus accessibility it is very much ‘dealer’s choice’ for an operator on whether or not they choose to provide any low-floor services or any priority seating on any public passenger transport services by road anywhere within Northern Ireland.

Similar to the question above arising regarding Translink’s Fuel Duty Rebate subsidies based on your response to this FOI request, your response raises questions as to the funding for low-floor accessible vehicles provided by the Department to Translink.

Translink sought and Ministers approved millions in Capital Funding based on submissions that cited a regulatory requirement to provide low-floor, accessible buses. The response you have provided contends that there are no such regulatory requirements and that Translink was free to operate all its services with vehicles that met the coach accessibility standards as defined in Schedule 3 of the regulations rather than accessible buses as defined in Schedule 2.

I appreciate that while you have forwarded the response provided its content and the inaccuracies will most likely have originated elsewhere within the Department. I would ask you to review the response provided, correct any errors as soon as possible and to provide full and accurate responses to the items requested under the FOI Act.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/b...

Yours faithfully,

Robert Laverty

DfI Information Management Unit, Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)

Dear Mr Laverty

 

Thank you for your email.

 

The most recent correspondence that you had received from the Department
was the internal review/reconsideration into the handling of your request
that the legislation requires.

 

If you are unhappy with the Departmental Information Manager’s review of
the handling of your request, the next stage in the process is to appeal
to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

 

Thank you.

 

Hugh Murnaghan

DfI Information Management Unit

 

 

 

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear DfI Information Management Unit,

Thank you for your response.

I would just draw your attention to the Northern Ireland Civil Service Code of Ethics.

Honesty
7. You must set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible.

I have pointed out very significant errors in the response you provided within the Department's Internal Review of my FOI request particularly around the statements regarding Translink's Goldline service not being eligible for Fuel Duty Rebate based on what you have presented as the Department's "common understanding" regarding the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 definition of “Bus Service".

The error can be easily checked within the Department and it can be easily revealed from the Department's records that the Department did in fact accept the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 definition of “Bus Service" in relation to Translink's Goldline service and consistently paid out Fuel Duty Rebate for those services on a yearly basis up until Mar 2015 based upon the acceptance of those services meeting the definition of a "Bus Service" within the Act.

I am disappointed that you have decided to end your Internal Review with the errors unaddressed and have instead referred me to the ICO.

Notwithstanding the above, you have provided a response that contains containing very significant errors. In line with the Northern Ireland Civil Service Code of Ethics I expect you to correct those errors in writing as soon as possible.

I await your response.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Laverty

DfI Information Management Unit, Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)

Dear Mr. Laverty

I apologise for the delay in responding.

I refer you to the previous email. 

If you are unhappy with the DfI Departmental Information Manager’s
reconsideration of the handling of your information request by the
Department, you may appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Thank you.

Hugh Murnaghan

DfI Information Management Unit

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear DfI Information Management Unit,

The response you provided contains false information that the relevant officers within your Department will know to be false.

I would again draw your attention to the Northern Ireland Civil Service Code of Ethics.

Honesty
7. You must set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible.

Additionally, it is not acceptable for a Govt Department to knowingly provide false information in relation to an FOI request simply because it feels providing accurate information might be inconvenient.

I do not find the Department's response acceptable and do not feel I should be forced to accept false information or be forced to approach the ICO to seek redress.

I would again ask you to correct the errors and provide an accurate response.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Laverty