MEMBER of the Senedd Lee Waters and MP Nia Griffith have been left disappointed after their request for local school buses to be exempt from the accessibility regulations was denied.

The public service vehicle accessibility regulation (PSVAR) requires all large public vehicles to be wheelchair accessible, and has been gradually phased in since 2000.

Last year, children who used fare-paying ‘closed’ bus services to get to school in the Gwendraeth valley found their routes had been withdrawn, as operators were unable to afford the costs of complying with regulations.

Llanelli’s MS Lee Waters and MP Nia Griffith said the impact was "damaging" for rural communities that are within three miles of their local schools, including Tumble, which has been hit particularly hard.

In May, county councillor and leader of the Labour group, Rob James, along with Nia Griffith and Lee Waters wrote a joint letter to Chris Heaton, UK minister of state for transport, calling for these services to be exempt from the regulation for the next academic year until a sustainable solution could be found.

Mr Heaton however ruled out the possibility of another extension, writing that it would “disadvantage those operators which had already invested in compliant vehicles ahead of the final deadlines.”

The Minister added that he would be “considering actively what further support might be appropriate to provide once the exemption for school and college arranged services expires on July 31.”

Lee Waters said: “Converting the bus fleet was proving uneconomical before this crisis, now with Covid-19 it is almost impossible from a financial point of view, and the UK Government are fully aware of this. These are absolutely unprecedented circumstances, and having granted a similar exemption for all rail replacement services till the end of the year, we had hoped the DfT would do the same for our school children.”

The County Councillor for the Llannon ward, Dot Jones, said: “I’m really worried for when the winter comes and children, through no fault of their own, are not able to get to school safely or in dry clothes.”

Nia Griffith added: “Parents are rightly concerned about the safe transportation of their children right now, and this situation will not have gone away by September. We fully support measures to include wheelchair users on all public transport, but the DfT must also recognise that the unintended consequences of PSVAR are punishing those parents and pupils left with no alternative mode of transport.”

“We recognise the huge pressures Covid-19 has put on council services, and the harsh economic picture facing local bus companies which were already struggling before the pandemic. We will continue to put pressure on the DfT regarding an exemption, and will be calling on Carmarthenshire County Council to prioritise school transport in the months ahead.”