Brexit: road, rail and maritime transport Contents

Chapter 3: Bus and coach transport

68.Bus and coach services are usually divided into three categories (also reflected under EU law):87

69.UK bus and coach operators must hold a valid operator licence. This can be obtained from a Traffic Commissioner in Great Britain or from the Northern Ireland Driver and Vehicle Agency in Northern Ireland. International services require a specific type of licence, covering national and international operations, and are subject to additional requirements under EU legislation (set out below).

70.The Government has suggested that “it is harder to provide detailed sectoral statistics on buses and coaches than it is for road haulage, as there is significantly less data available”.88 Some indication of passenger flows is provided by the Office for National Statistics, which estimated that in 2017 approximately 1.6 million non-UK residents travelled into the UK89 and around 1.1 million UK residents travelled out of the UK by coach on sea and cross-Channel routes.90

71.The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) estimated: “British coaches make around 30,000 journeys into Europe each year on hires and holidays, and around 7,000 journeys per year on regular services.” These estimates exclude trips to the Republic of Ireland.91

The EU regulatory framework

72.EU law requires international bus and coach services to possess a Community Licence, which authorises operations and establishes rights such as cabotage on international services.92 Regular services must also be authorised by a competent national authority in consultation with counterparts in all Member States along the planned route. The authorisation can be refused in specific circumstances, including when the new service would threaten a comparable one operated under a public service contract.93 This framework is in force throughout the EEA.

Future UK-EU arrangements

73.We explore Northern Ireland–Ireland passenger transport in more detail in Chapter 8: the rest of this Chapter focuses on GB-EU passenger transport.

74.As with hauliers, the Government’s White Paper called for the exploration of “options for reciprocal access” for road passenger transport operators. CPT held that an agreement on passenger transport would have the mutually beneficial outcome of enabling “British businesses to continue to offer services that passengers want, while allowing EU-based operators to profit from bringing tourists (and others) to the UK”.94 Translink argued that an agreement should principally aim to ensure that “cross-border passenger services continue to be provided with as little additional administration, disruption or restriction as possible”. Translink also noted that a future arrangement on passenger transport would need to be underpinned by mutual recognition provisions in areas such as operator licences, driver licences and vehicle standards.95

75.Bus Users UK focused on the implications of an agreement for consumers. It emphasised that “the low cost of coach travel makes it the choice of travellers on more limited incomes”, and felt that any future increased administrative costs for operators would “inevitably be passed on to customers”. An effective agreement on passenger transport would require appropriate arrangements to facilitate border crossings, for example “an agreed system for pre-authorisation of passenger passports”. Bus Users UK reinforced this point by observing that changing vehicles at a border would be problematic for “older or disabled passengers”, particularly if there were different accessibility standards between vehicles.96


76.Steven Salmon, Director of Policy Development, CPT, explained that GB-based operators made limited use of cabotage rights: “You may take a school party over to France and … you may take out a party consisting of host schoolchildren and the visitors. That is technically cabotage, and it would be irritating if it was prohibited … But, in the overall scheme of things, it is not a top priority.”97 We note that Translink outlined a markedly different scenario for passenger services on the island of Ireland.98

Regulatory alignment

77.Mr Salmon drew attention to the “very detailed EU rules about driving time and rest for drivers”, suggesting that the threshold for exemption of short Regular services from the EU drivers’ hours rules, which is currently set at 50 kilometres, be revised. He also highlighted onerous CPC requirements for domestic bus and coach drivers:

“We have a lot of people who may have another job or may be retired, who come out for a couple of hours a day during school terms, drive kids to school and go home, and then they take them home again in the early afternoon. They have the same requirement for that certificate of professional competence as someone who is driving internationally all the time. We think that is over the top, because it requires five days’ training every five years.”99

78.We note that some EU requirements are designed to ensure passenger and driver safety.

79.Bus and coach transport provides consumers with a low-cost option for international travel, and an agreement to maintain UK-EU services would have clear reciprocal benefits for both markets. We note the objective set out in the Political Declaration to seek comparable market access arrangements for passenger transport operators as well as road hauliers.

80.As for road haulage, the Political Declaration suggests that regulatory alignment will be a prerequisite to a liberalised market access arrangement for passenger transport. There may be some areas where it would be beneficial for UK operators to diverge from EU rules, though the benefits of divergence are unlikely to outweigh those brought by the maintenance of market access.

Contingency arrangements

The Interbus Agreement

81.In its ‘no deal’ technical notice for bus and coach drivers, published on 14 January 2019, the Government highlighted that Occasional services could continue under the terms of the Interbus Agreement (‘Interbus’), once the UK re-joined the agreement in its own right.100 We discuss Interbus in Box 4.

Box 4: The Interbus Agreement

The agreement on the international occasional carriage of passengers by coach and bus (‘Interbus’) is a multilateral treaty concluded between the EU, on behalf of its Member States, and several eastern European countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Turkey and Ukraine.

Interbus sets a general principle of non-discrimination “on the grounds of the nationality or the place of establishment of the transport operator, and of the origin or destination of the bus or coach”. It exempts Occasional bus and coach services—with some exceptions—from authorisation and from any vehicle taxes or special taxes on transport operations levied by the contracting parties. Services in scope of the agreement are subject to EU rules on access to the occupation of road transport operators, vehicle standards and social rights of workers (for example driving hours limits). Accession to Interbus is open to all ECMT members.

At present, the scope of Interbus is limited to Occasional services and it does not allow for cabotage. A Protocol extending Interbus to Regular international and Special Regular international services was opened for signature on 16 July 2018. The Protocol does not include cabotage rights.

The UK currently participates in Interbus through its membership of the EU. The Government intends to re-join the agreement after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. On 12 September 2018 it laid the agreement, alongside the Protocol on extension to regular and special regular services, before Parliament. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal the UK will become an independent member of the Interbus Agreement.

Sources: Agreement on the international occasional carriage of passengers by coach and bus (Interbus Agreement), OJ L 321 (26 November 2002); Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Agreement on the international occasional carriage of passengers by coach and bus (Interbus Agreement) and Decision No 1/2011 of the Joint Committee established under the Interbus Agreement … and Protocol to the agreement on the international occasional carriage of passengers by coach and bus (Interbus Agreement) regarding the international regular and special regular carriage of passengers by coach, Cm 9699, September 2018: [accessed 18 December 2018]

82.CPT described Interbus as a “ready-to-sign agreement” and said it would be “fit for purpose for coach hire and coach holidays”. CPT did however note that “Interbus does not allow for cabotage, nor does it currently allow for regular services”.101

83.Mr Salmon told us that accession to Interbus was “the top priority” for CPT.102 Accession would not however override other “unwelcome” developments such as the need for drivers to carry an International Driving Permit and an insurance Green Card.103

The EU’s contingency measures

84.On 19 December 2018, the Commission proposed temporary measures to facilitate access to the EU by UK hauliers in a ‘no deal’ scenario, contingent on reciprocal rights being granted to EU hauliers in the UK.104 The final negotiated text was expanded to allow UK operators temporarily to carry passengers from the UK to the EU and vice versa, also contingent on EU operators being granted equivalent rights in the UK.105 The measure was intended to maintain continuity until the Protocol to the Interbus agreement on Regular and Special Regular services entered into force and the UK acceded to that Protocol.106

85.Specific contingency arrangements were made for passenger transport in the border regions of the island of Ireland, which we discuss further in Chapter 8.

86.Neither the EU measures nor the Interbus Agreement permit transit through the EU to reach a third country. This means that without a further UK-EU arrangement, UK operators would not be able to run services to countries that are not part of the EU or party to the Interbus Agreement, such as Switzerland.107

87.The UK’s independent accession to the Interbus Agreement would assure cross-channel coach trips, whether or not there was a wider UK-EU agreement on bus and coach transport. The Interbus Agreement does not extend to Regular and Special Regular services. While this is a major limitation currently, steps are being taken to expand the Agreement to include these services. A further limitation is that the Interbus Agreement cannot be used to transit through the EU to reach non-contracting parties, such as Switzerland.

88.We note that the Government has taken steps to ensure that the UK can accede to Interbus if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October 2019.

87 Article 2, Council Regulation (EC) No 1073/2009 of 21 October 2009 on common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services, and amending Regulation (EC) No 561/2006 (recast), OJ L 300/88 (14 November 2009)

88 Department for Exiting the European Union, Road Haulage and Passenger Transport Sector Report (21 December 2017), p 4: [accessed 25 November 2018]

89 Office for National Statistics, ‘Travel trends estimates: overseas residents in the UK’, 2017, table 4.08: Visits to the UK: by type of vehicle used and country of residence 2017 (17 August 2018): [accessed 23 April 2019]

90 Office for National Statistics, ‘Travel trends estimates: UK residents’ visits abroad, 2017’, 2017, table 5.08: Number of visits abroad: by type of vehicle used and main country visited 2017 (17 August 2018): [accessed 23 April 2019]

91 Written evidence from The Confederation of Passenger Transport (TRA0006)

92 Council Regulation (EC) No 1073/2009 of 21 October 2009 on common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services, and amending Regulation (EC) No 561/2006, OJ L 300/88 (14 November 2009). In the UK, Community Licences are automatically issued to transport operators who obtain an operator licence for national and international operations.

93 Article 5, Council Regulation (EC) No 1073/2009 of 21 October 2009 on common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services, and amending Regulation (EC) No 561/2006 (recast), OJ L 300/88 (14 November 2009)

94 Written evidence from The Confederation of Passenger Transport (TRA0006)

95 Written evidence from Translink (TRA0020)

96 Written evidence from Bus Users UK (TRA0009)

97 Q 50 (Steve Salmon)

98 Written evidence from Translink (TRA0020)

99 Q 53 (Steve Salmon)

100 Department for Transport, ‘Prepare to drive in the EU after Brexit: bus and coach drivers’ (31 October 2019): [accessed 23 April 2019]

101 Written evidence from The Confederation of Passenger Transport (TRA0006)

102 Q 50 (Steve Salmon)

103 Written evidence from The Confederation of Passenger Transport (TRA0006). See Chapter 4 for analysis of future arrangements for driving licences and insurance Green Cards.

104 The Government laid an SI on 26 February 2019 to provide EU bus and coach operators access to the UK. The Licensing of Operators and International Road Haulage (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/708)

105 The Common Rules for Access to the International Market for Coach and Bus Services (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/741)

106 Regulation (EU) 2019/501 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 March 2019 on common rules ensuring basic road freight and road passenger connectivity with regard to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the Union, OJ L 85/16 (27 March 2019)

107 Department for Transport, ‘Prepare to drive in the EU after Brexit: bus and coach drivers’ (14 January 2019): [accessed 23 April 2019]

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