The Automated Vehicles Draft Bill, published by the House of Lords on 8 November 2023, covers seven key areas of automated vehicle (AV) regulation, aiming to “set the legal framework for the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles in Great Britain". 

We have previously looked at an overview of the AV Bill as well the core regulatory scheme for AVs.  In this post of the series, we delve into Part 5 of the Bill, which focuses on the use of AVs for public passenger services and the granting of permits for Automated Passenger Services (APSs). 

Overview of Part 5 of the Bill 

  • Definition of an APS – this captures services that “consist of the carrying of passengers in a road vehicle that” travels autonomously or is being tested in order to travel autonomously in the future. Therefore, this Part applies to commercial vehicles and test vehicles, but only where adapted for use on the road.  It would not apply to the likes of automated pods that are designed solely to travel off-road, where separate legislation would apply.  
  • Granting permits – provides the power to the ‘appropriate national authority' (ANA) to grant such permits. The accompanying policy document (released 21 November) explains that the “Secretary of State is the ANA in relation to all APS permits issued in England” as well as for Great Britain for all AVs that would, but for this legislation, be considered to be 'public service vehicles' (i.e. currently any vehicle adapted to carry nine or more passengers for hire or reward). Otherwise the relevant Scottish and Welsh ministers are the ANAs for the issue of APS permits in their respective territories.  
  • Overriding Objective – the function of any APS scheme must be to “improve the knowledge and understanding of how to design and provide APSs for older and disabled passengers”. ANAs will have to consider this objective when deciding whether to provide any particular permit. Finally, permit holders will be required to “publish reports about their APS and the steps taken to provide accessible services and safeguard passengers more generally”.
  • Restrictions on permits – ANAs must impose restrictions on APS permits in regard to: the geographical scope of operations, the vehicles deployable for APS provision, and the validity period of the permits (the Law Commission recommended a maximum of 3 years with no automatic right to renewal).
  • Procedure – ANAs are given the ability to make regulations concerning procedural and administrative matters in relation to APS permits. These regulations may relate to when a permit can be varied, renewed, suspended, or withdrawn.
  • Civil sanctions – namely, for an infringement against a permit scheme, whether this be by breaching a condition of a granted licence or by presenting a service as licensed when it is not.
  • Disapplication of taxi etc legislation – as recommended by the Law Commission (meaning that, for example, an APS could not be prosecuted for unlawfully plying for hire).
  • Where the APS ‘resembles’ an existing taxi or bus service in a specific local area – where the ANA is proposing to grant a permit, a second level of consent is required from each taxi/PHV licensing authority in the area that the resembling service is to operate within in the case of a taxi-like service and each relevant franchising authority in the case of bus-like services in a franchised area. It is worth noting that where the relevant secondary body fails to respond within six weeks or refuses consent without providing reasons, then this is deemed to be consent.

Impact of Part 5

As with the rest of the Bill, Part 5 goes some way to providing a foundation for prospective APS providers to prepare for the technology's adoption. In particular, clarity over the overriding objective that applicants must satisfy in order to attain a permit will be appreciated by industry (as will knowing that they must provide reports on how they have been meeting it). The clarification around the role of secondary, local authorities where there are ‘resembling’ service introduces local decision-making to reflect that already in place for taxis, PHVs and buses.  

Benefits of APSs 

Whilst we speculated that Part 1 may well be the most important aspect of the Bill in an earlier post, there is no doubt that Part 5 is too. Delivering the potential societal benefits of AVs (and avoidance of disbenefits such as congestion) is significantly linked to their adoption not just for private use but crucially for shared use.  From the very first trials in 2014 to current vehicle trials from the Forth Bridge (CAVForth) to Milton Keynes (Mi-Link) and to Belfast (Harlander), work is underway to deliver the benefits of AV to public services and this framework gives a clear foundation for delivery and operation.  The adoption of shared AVs under APS permits has the potential to: 

  • Increase accessibility to travel for those who are unable to drive, walk or cycle (hence the overriding objective seeking to ensure maximal accessibility for this demographic).
  • Offer different commercial models that could improve public transport options including in areas that are otherwise difficult to service under current models
  • Improve safety (with studies showing that 94% of car accidents involving human error).

If you would like to discuss further any of the details of the Bill or self-driving vehicle legislation, please contact Brian Wong or Lucy Pegler.

[This article was written by Brian Wong and Callum Duckmanton.]