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Slough coach company faces £500k bill to fit wheelchair lifts to fleet

A coach company fears it could go out of business if it is forced to make its entire fleet wheelchair accessible.

The Government has introduced new regulations requiring all vehicles carrying 22 or more paying passengers on a scheduled route to be fitted with wheelchair lifts.

A temporary exemption has been granted to companies offering home- to-school transport but concern has been raised whether the service can continue in the next school year if the exemption comes to an end.

Samantha Sweeney, owner of Apple Travel, said: “We do not have any wheelchair users wishing to use our services as they do not attend the schools that we provide home-to-school transport for.

“We have, however, through the local authorities, surveyed the number of children using wheelchairs in our areas and have been informed that majority attend SEN (Special Educational Needs) schools and are provided with accessible vehicles and have a door-to-door service.”

The Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations were passed by Parliament in 2000 but came into force on January 1 this year.

Apple Travel, in Stoke Road, Slough, transports more than 700 students to schools including Burn-ham Grammar, and Cox Green and Altwood, both secondary schools in Maidenhead, on routes through Langley, Stoke Poges Lane and Datchet.

The firm said it could cost £30,000 per vehicle to fit wheelchair lifts in its fleet of 17 coaches – in all, more than £500,000.

“The act has been passed and it’s quite difficult to get these things overturned but this is going to jeopardise all these companies,” said Samantha.

“The Government want the community to be green but now there are going to be cars everywhere because all these parents will have to take their children to school.

“I think a lot of companies could go out of business because that’s our bread and butter.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: “Good bus services are absolutely essential to get children, including those who are disabled, to school on time.

“Bus and coach accessibility regulations were first introduced nearly two decades ago, but we have become aware that some schools wrongly believed the rules were not applicable to their home-to-school transport services.

“That’s why we have offered temporary exemptions to authorities and schools across Great Britain to ensure that services comply with the law as soon as possible.”

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