The DDA is big news for anyone working in Bus and Coach finance

By Martin Nixon – Head of Asset Finance, United Trust Bank

If, like me, the mere mention of new acts of Parliament has you rapidly skipping to the sports pages you may be unaware of a piece of legislation which will start to come into force in January 2015 but will almost certainly have serious implications for those of us working in the Bus and Coach sector well before then.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was introduced in 1995 and part of it related to the access requirements for all ‘land based’ forms of public transport including trains, trams, taxis, buses and coaches. The bus and coach sector is very important to United Trust Bank, and with the DDA spelling the end of the road for potentially a whole class of passenger vehicles, this is something brokers looking to place business in this sector should be fully aware of.

In essence, starting from January 2015 all buses and coaches used for any kind of public transport or hire and reward must meet certain access requirements such as those for ramps, wheelchair access and dedicated wheelchair space. If they don’t they will be deemed illegal to operate. The first group of vehicles affected, those up to 7.5 tonnes GVW, will have to be compliant or out of service by the 31st of December 2014. A year later the same will apply to single-deck buses over 7.5 tonnes GVW and by the 1st of January 2017 it will include double-deckers. According to an industry expert on the topic, Mark Stephenson of Fleet Resourcing, only around 75% of UK buses and coaches currently operated are actually DDA compliant.
The most obvious impact will be that step-entrance buses will effectively disappear from UK roads and this will have a significant effect on the values of these vehicles. Consider this. If an operator has the opportunity to purchase a used step entrance vehicle such as a Volvo Olympian they can only run it for three years before it becomes a museum piece, scrap or in perhaps the best case scenario, a candidate for export achieving a fraction of its pre DDA value. Now, any funder asked to consider lending against vehicles which could potentially fall foul of DDA regulations are going to have to take a very conservative view on residual values. Even if the repayment period is scheduled prior to the deadline for DDA compliance, lenders will take into account that buyers for non-compliant vehicles are going to be few and far between long before then.

The other important aspect to consider is that not all existing low-floor buses meet the requirements of the DDA. Sometimes, only an expert like Mark Stephenson will be able to confirm that a vehicle will meet DDA requirements or indeed if it would be viable to upgrade it. I expect Mark and his colleagues at Fleet Resourcing are likely to be very busy over the next few years.

They say that every cloud has a silver lining and I’m pleased to close on a more positive note. Large numbers of redundant vehicles legislated out of existence must be replaced. It’s estimated that around 30,000 new buses will need to be brought into service by 2017 and this means that over the next few years we could well see a lot of buying activity as operators upgrade their fleets. It’s also good news as well for those operators which already have DDA compliant vehicles as they will become sought after assets which lenders will not only be happy to fund but which may also, in some circumstances, appreciate in value.