Bus Driving Licences – the Old & the New

By guest blogger Chris Butterfield

Bus expert Chris was and still is a bus driver who became a transport solicitor and lecturer before his retirement

If you’re old enough, you may have attended a school, or belonged to a scout troop, that had an elderly bus used for outings, driven by one of the teachers or scout masters. He or she was most probably driving on a standard car driver’s licence. How? That was a bus wasn’t it? Yes it was, but in those days there was no such thing as a licence to drive a bus.

There was, however, a licence to drive a public service vehicle. This was introduced by the Road Traffic Act of 1930. A PSV was, and still is, defined as (a) a vehicle with more than 8 passenger seats carrying passengers for hire or reward, and (b) a vehicle with up to 8 seats carrying passengers at separate fares. (This second definition was to distinguish a private hire car, for which only one fare would be paid.) And that Act created a PSV driving licence, granted by the traffic commissioners. The commissioners still grant operators’ licences to operate those vehicles.

So if the scout troop bought itself a battered old bus in which to travel to summer camp, it was not being used for hire or reward, and the scout master would not need a PSV driver’s licence. This ‘exemption’ was widely used in the bus industry, where fitters and cleaners would drive empty buses on the road with only a car licence.

This changed 30 years ago. In readiness for the creation of the European Union in 1993, driving licences throughout Europe were standardised. And the legislators in Brussels had no concept of a PSV. So a new category of Passenger Carrying Vehicle was created, meaning a vehicle with more than 8 passenger seats. That requires a category D licence today – issued by DVLA, not the Traffic Commissioner. The scout master could have continued to drive the troop’s battered old bus, but only if he applied not later than 1992 and satisfied the authorities that he had driven it for the previous 2 years; then he would get grandfather rights to hold a category D licence, but not to drive for hire or reward.

Today, therefore, the bus company’s fitters and cleaners will require a full PCV licence if they are to take buses on the road, even if they are not being used as PSVs to carry passengers for hire or reward. But there is another side to that coin.

In remote rural areas 8-seat minibuses can be used to run a bus service. And coach companies operating tours will often use them for feeder services. Previously, when carrying passengers paying separately, the driver would need a PSV licence. That is no longer the case, as the category D licence is needed only for a bus with more than 8 passenger seats. To be clear, such a minibus, carrying passengers at separate fares, will be a PSV and will have to be operated under the authority of a PSV operator’s licence. But the driver need have no more than a car licence.

This is not straightforward, and there is a lot of misunderstanding within the industry. A question for you!

A coach driver (let’s call him Billy) operating an 8-seat minibus on a tour feeder is pulled over by a policeman. Seeing the PSV operator licence disc correctly displayed in the windscreen, the policemen asks Billy to produce his licence ‘because he needs will need a PSV licence to drive the bus’. Billy hands over his licence which shows that he has the full category D licence.

In fact, the policeman was wrong as Billy didn’t need the entitlement for the minibus he was driving that morning. Do you know why?

Answer…………. Although Billy was driving a PSV (an 8-seater carrying passengers at separate fares), a category D licence (the EU's replacement for the old PSV driving licence) is only needed for a bus with more than 8 passenger seats.

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