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EU safety rules will dispose of London double-decker

Myth: Brussels bureaucrats are trying to get rid of Britain’s and Ireland’s double decker buses, replacing them with a standard “Euro coach” with fewer seats, lower floors, more standing room, increasing the number of exits, making seat belts mandatory and insisting that they have two staircases. The Euro coach – or “vertically integrated public transport saloon” in Brussels speak – would be wholly impractical anyway, having originally been too high to fit under bridges and now too low for speed bumps.

Response: The end of the double decker is not nigh, and officials from the European Commission are certainly not trying to get rid of it.

This story has appeared in the context of moves within the European Commission, European Parliament and Member States towards improving the safety of bus and coach passengers. The Commission has chosen to take an integrated approach on this, covering general safety provisions such as stability against roll-over and the flammability of materials used in bus and coach construction. A draft Directive is being written with the objective of reaching agreement on general safety standards for such vehicles. An annexe is to be added that will specifically cover double decker buses and coaches. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe is currently drawing up international standards for double decker buses and coaches. The Commission is aware of the UK’s reserve on a number of points relating to the UN ECE standards being developed; these are being fully considered and discussed in the Commission’s Working Group drawing up technical propsals for the Directive. It should be borne in mind that any new prescriptions will apply only to new buses and coaches and not to existing ones.

On staircases, it has been agreed in the Working Group (which consists of representatives of Member States’ Governments, together with experts from manufacturers, component suppliers and user organisations, the UK and Ireland included) that only one staircase will be needed on double decker buses with fewer than 50 passengers on the upper deck. The number of seats will not be subject to EC legislation, but pitch space for seated or standing passengers is being examined in order to ensure passenger safety. These, together with gangways and exits, will be covered by standards applying to all buses and coaches without distinction between the number of decks.

The Commission is endeavouring to take account of the specificities of each Member States’ urban transport system in drawing up this Directive and acknowledges that different views on what should be appropriate minima for seat width and seat pitch. Efforts are currently focused on achieving the maximum degree of harmonisation possible on a consensus-basis, before addressing outstanding issues – which may include dimensions – and devising appropriate solutions.
Special attention has been given to the issue of fitting seat belts in coaches. This should not however be misconstrued to suggest that buses would have to have seat belts as well. In fact the opposite is the case. The Commission’s Working Group is responsible for providing the Commission with the technical advice to enable it to prepare a draft Directive. It was decided that seat belts would not be necessary in buses; consequently the Commission will not propose such a measure. It will however propose shortly that the fitting of seat belts is made mandatory on mini-buses and coaches in all seating positions.

As regards lower floors and the amount of standing room, these issues are still being discussed. At present it seems more likely that low-floor buses will be insisted upon, so that the disabled will have easier access; however this does not mean that all new buses’ floors will have to be lowered.

Any proposals from the European Commission will have to pass scrutiny from th e European Parliament according to the usual processes before the final decision can be taken by Government ministers.