Coach firm legal issues

Bearded man stood with rows of coaches in background

There is a large amount of complex legislation that applies to bus and coach operators and it's advisable to take specialist advice before you start up your business to make sure that you are aware of everything that will affect you.

What licences does a coach firm need?

Legislation is in place which provides for:

  • operator licensing
  • local bus service registration or licensing
  • drivers' licensing

All vehicles used on the road must have a current vehicle excise duty licence (road tax). The cost will vary according to the seating capacity of the coach. Coaches and buses with reduced pollution certificates fall into a cheaper tax class. Full details are available from the DVLA. More information about vehicle licensing in Northern Ireland is available on the NI Direct website.

Authorised testing facilities

If you are going to carry out MOT testing you will need to obtain authorisation from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). You can find out how to apply on the Gov.uk website. In Northern Ireland, MOT testing is carried out at government run testing stations.

If you plan to play background music and/or DVDs on your coaches you will need to obtain a licence from a Music Licence from PPL PRS Ltd. There is an annual fee for this which you can pay online on the PPL PRS website. If you plan to screen films and TV shows on board, you'll need an MPLC licence.

If you are planning to serve alcoholic refreshments on board your coaches you must make sure you have obtained the appropriate alcohol licences. You can find out more from your local authority.

Operator licensing

You will need a Public Service Operator Licence for each Traffic Area within Great Britain in which you will have a base. In Northern Ireland, you'll need a Road Service Licence. To get a licence, the Traffic Commissioner (or equivalent in Northern Ireland) will need to be satisfied that you are of good repute, have enough money to run the business, will properly maintain your vehicles and that you and your staff will comply with regulations. You will need to have gained the Certificate of Professional Competence qualification.

Local bus service registration or licensing

Outside London you will need to register with the Traffic Commissioner (or the DVA) for your area any local bus services you plan to provide. Within London Transport for London (TfL) sets routes, service standards and fares for the London bus network. Most routes are competitively tendered to commercial operators. Otherwise, a London Service Permit must be obtained if you wish to provide a local bus service. You can download more information about London Service Permits from the Transport for London website.

Driver licensing

Drivers of passenger vehicles with nine passenger seats or more must hold an appropriate driver's licence. This is either a Passenger Carrying Vehicle driving entitlement (which is added to an ordinary driving licence) or a Public Service Vehicle driver's licence (which were issued up to April 1991). You will have to take a test to obtain a licence.

Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC)

Bus and coach drivers must hold the CPC qualification before they can drive professionally. This also applies to drivers of minibuses with nine or more passenger seats.

Driver's working hours

The number of hours that a driver can drive without a break are strictly regulated and you may need to fit and use tachographs, which record the time in use, the distance travelled and the speed of the vehicle. All new passenger carrying vehicles, including buses and coaches, must be fitted with a digital tachograph.

London Low Emission Zone (LEZ)

If your buses or coaches don't comply with the London Low Emission Zone emission standards you will have to pay a daily charge if you drive within the Zone. You can find out more about the LEZ on the Transport for London (TfL) website.

Vehicle specifications

Public service vehicles (PSVs) must have a Certificate of Initial Fitness or a Certificate of Conformity to show that they were built to Public Service Vehicle standards. PSVs must pass the bus annual test each year (this is similar to the MOT test for cars). Legislation is in place that covers the use of speed limiters in buses and coaches and there are also regulations covering exhaust emissions. The Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations require all PSVs which carry more than 22 passengers and that are used on local or scheduled services to be accessible to disabled people.

Requirements for the fitting of seat belts in buses and coaches vary according to the age of the vehicle and its use. At the front of the vehicle, drivers and any passengers in front seats parallel to the driver must wear seat belts. Children under three must use a baby or child seat. Behind the driver, all seated passengers (aged 14 years and above) must use a seat belt if one is fitted.

You can find detailed guidance about operator licensing on the Gov.uk website. There's information about PSV licensing in Northern Ireland on the NI Direct website.

You can find out about operating a minibus in the UK on the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) website.

Contact the Licensing Manager, Surface Transport Communications, 11th Floor - Zone Y7, Palestra, 197 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8NJ for details of applications procedures for London Service Permits. You can download an application form from the TfL website.

Smoking ban

Smoking is not permitted in public workplaces, including coaches used to transport members of the public. You must display appropriate 'No Smoking' signs. at your premises and in your busses and coaches. The legislation varies slightly in different parts of the UK so contact your local authority for details of how the ban affects you. You can also find out more on the HSE website.

Health & Safety, fire

You must comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.

Insurance for a coach firm

Contact an insurer or insurance broker and explain exactly how your business will operate - they will then explain what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. This might include:

  • premises, premises contents
  • employers liability (if you employ staff)
  • public liability
  • personal accident (for employees)

Some firms offer competitive rates for fleet insurance. Premiums may be paid in a lump or they may be paid in instalments. Your insurer will be able to advise you of the amounts due - enter them in the months when you will pay them. (Some specialist firms offer computer generated proposal forms and accept credit and debit cards so you can obtain instant cover by phone.)

When comparing insurance quotes, uncover the differences between policies by using an insurance comparison form.

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