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Passenger transport: public service vehicles (buses, coaches, minibuses)

See also: Smoke free premises and vehicles


England and Wales, Scotland

  PSV operator's licence

  What is a PSV?

  Classification of PSV licences

  Regulations of Conduct

  Local bus services


  Disabled person access

  Type approval: Certificate of initial fitness

  Drivers’ licences and hours


Northern Ireland 

England and Wales, Scotland

Public service vehicle operators' licences

An operator of a public service vehicle (“PSV”) require's an operator's licence to carry passengers for hire or reward (Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981). PSV operator's licences are issued by the traffic commissioner for the traffic area in which there will be one or more “operating centres” of vehicles used under the licence.

The traffic areas in Great Britain are: Scottish, North-Western, North-Eastern, West Midland, Eastern, Welsh, Western, South-Eastern and Metropolitan.

A PSV operator's licence authorises the holder to use anywhere in Great Britain vehicles which have their operating centre in the area of the traffic commissioner by whom the licence was granted.

A person may hold two or more PSV operators' licences each granted by the traffic commissioner for a different area, but may not at the same time hold more than one such licence granted by the traffic commissioner for the same area.

Further information: see: PSV (Public Service Vehicle) operator licences

What is a public service vehicle?

A “public service vehicle” means a motor vehicle (other than a tramcar) which falls within either of the following two definitions:

i) it is a vehicle adapted to carry nine or more passengers, and is used for carrying passengers for hire or reward; or

(ii) it is a vehicle not so adapted, but is used for carrying passengers for hire or reward at separate fares in the course of a business of carrying passengers.

Limousine services: some limousines may fall within the PSV definition.

Activities covered by PSV regulation

Adapted to carry”: this probably means “apt or suitable for” according to case law. A minibus with four out of eleven seats blocked off was held not to be a public service vehicle (Westacott v Centaur Overland Travel Ltd [1981] RTR 182, DC).

Hire or reward”: a vehicle is treated as carrying passengers for hire or reward if payment is made for, or for matters which include, the carrying of passengers. It does not matter to whom the payment is made.

Meaning of Ccrriage “for hire or reward”: according to case law involves systematic carrying of passengers going beyond the bounds of mere social kindness and amounting to a predominantly business activity: see e.g.:

Albert v Motor Insurers' Bureau [1972] AC 301, [1971] 2 All ER 1345, HL: a docker over some eight years had a regular arrangement whereby he would carry fellow dockers in his car to their place of work. His passengers would pay him sums varying between 5s and 10s although sometimes the reward was given in kind, e.g. a pint of beer or a packet of cigarettes. There was no evidence that he advertised his services or solicited for custom. The House of Lords held that this activity was one for hire or reward.

Legaleze comment: this case was brought by the widow of a passenger who was killed in an accident involving the docker’s car. The widow had to prove that the docker was carrying the passenger for hire or reward in order to get compensation from the Motor Insurers Bureau. It is possible that this influenced the decision. Also see below exception for cost sharing journeys under legislation later than this case.

Meaning of "use" of a vehicle: see What's new items:
15/08/2013: Swansea bus  operator loses contract due to failure to display PSV disc
Grey (trading as Citytax) v City and County of Swansea
[2013] EWCA Civ 1057 Hearing Date 27 June 2013
The Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 requires:
* that a public service vehicle must not be used on a road for carrying passengers for hire or reward except under a PSV operator's licence (s.12(1));
* when a PSV is used on a road for carrying passengers for hire or reward, a PSV operator's disc must be displayed.The court upheld the county court ruling, holding that the use of the bus for boarding children, even before its engine was started and it moved off, was “use” of a PSV. [see news item for full report]

Exception for pre-arranged cost shared journeys

In the case of vehicles not adapted to carry more than 8 passengers, a journey made by a vehicle in the course of which one or more passengers are carried at separate fares is not  treated as made in the course of a business of carrying passengers if two conditions are met:
(a) the fare or the aggregate of the fares paid in respect of the journey does not exceed the amount of the running costs of the vehicle for the journey; and
(b) the arrangements for the payment of the fares by the passenger or passengers so carried were made before the journey began
(Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 s 1(1))

Classification of licences

There are 4 types of PSV operator licences, and special licensing rules apply in London.

Standard licence - national operations only

You can only operate in Great Britain if you apply for a standard licence. Most full-time commercial operators use standard licences.

Standard licence - national and international operations

This kind of licence lets you take passengers abroad as well as within Great Britain.

Restricted licence

You can only apply for a restricted licence for small-scale operations. They allow you to use 1 or 2 vehicles, and neither can carry more than 8 passengers.

You can carry up to 16 passengers in either vehicle if you don’t use it as part of a passenger transport business, or you’re operating your vehicles as a sideline and not as your main job.

Special restricted licence

Special restricted licences are used to operate a licensed taxi on a local service. You can only apply for this licence if you’re a licensed taxi operator. A local service is one where:

* stops are no more than 24.15 kilometres (15 miles) apart;

* at least one stop is within the area of the district council that issued your taxi or private hire vehicle (PHV) licence.

The service must be registered with the local Traffic Commissioner.

Licensing in London

You’ll need a London Service Permit to run a private bus or coach service in London.

London Service Permits

Most of the routes on our bus network are put out to tender. If you want to run a bus, coach or tours service outside of our network, you'll need to apply to Transport for London for a London Service Permit.

Requirements for licences

The traffic commissioner must grant a licence if he is satisfied that the applicant satisfies the required conditions. There are conditions for: a standard licence, for a restricted licence and conditions which must be met in both cases.

Standard licence: the conditions to be satisfied are that the applicant:

(a) has an effective and stable establishment in Great Britain (as determined in accordance with the relevant regulations);

(b) is of good repute (as defined);

(c) has appropriate financial standing (as determined in accordance with the regulations);

(d) is professionally competent (as determined etc.) and

(e) the applicant has designated a transport who is of good repute and is professionally competent (as determined etc.).

Duration and conditions of licence

A licence lasts indefinitely (subject to possible revocation or suspension). Standard conditions will be attached to the licence and other conditions imposing a maximum number of vehicles and regulating their use may be imposed. A restricted licence may not allow more than two vehicles.

Tacit consent: tacit consent does not apply.

Right of appeal

There is a right of appeal to the Upper Tribunal against a decision of a traffic commissioner not to grant a licence or to impose certain conditions. Tribunal decisions may be searched and viewed on the Tribunals Judiciary website.(search for appeals from the Traffic Commissioners).

There is also a right of appeal (England and Wales) to the Secretary of State and (in Scotland) to the Scottish government against the refusal to issue a certificate of initial fitness or certificate of conformity.

Regulations of conduct

There are regulations on the conduct of drivers, inspectors and passengers:
England and Wales: Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations 1990, SI 1990/1020.

Scotland: Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2006.

Regulation of local bus services

“Local services” (i.e. local bus services) are subject to additional regulations under the Transport Act 1985. In order to provide a local service in any traffic area in which there is a stopping place for the service, the operator must register the prescribed particulars of the service with the traffic commissioner for that area.

An application to register may only be made by a holder of PSV licence or of a community bus permit (which may be granted broadly to non-profit bodies serving local community social and welfare needs) of one or more communities.

A “local service” means (broadly) a service, using one or more public service vehicles, for the carriage of passengers by road at separate fares with stops at less than 15 miles apart. There are certain exceptions.


The Transport Act 2000, s 154, enables the Secretary of State to provide grants to operators of eligible bus services towards the cost of operating those services. See Bus services: grants and funding

What’s New items on this topic [go to the What's New page or archive for the full item]:

02/06/2017: Bus Services Act 2017

Source: House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library has published a paper explaining the policy background to and contents and purpose of the Bus Services Act 2017.Introduced in the House of Lords on 19 May 2016, it received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017, just before the last session of Parliament was dissolved for the 2017 snap general election.

The Act extends to England and Wales with one provision extending to Scotland. However it applies only in England and its main changes do not affect London.

11/03/2014: Consultation on implementation of the Competition Commission remedies on bus registration
The Department for Transport seeks views on implementation of the Competition Commission’s (CC) recommendations for local bus service registration following a market investigation in 2011. It also asks for views on making bus registration digital by default and how to make the Electronic Bus Service Registration (EBSR) system more easily accessible to small and medium operators. Consultation ends on Tuesday 6 May 2014.

Disabled person access

The Equality Act 2010 contains provisions about disabled persons and access to public service vehicles (and see Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations 2000).

Type approval: Certificate of initial fitness

A PSV adapted to carry more than 8 passengers must not be used on a road unless a certificate of initial fitness, certificate of type approval, EC certificate of conformity, national small series certificate of conformity or an individual approval certificate has been issued for the vehicle.

Drivers’ licences

Drivers of Passenger Carrying Vehicles (“PCV”) need the correct category of driving licence in order to legally drive on the road. Information is available from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

Drivers hours and tachographs

There are regulations which impose restrictions on PSV drivers' hours and require tachograph installation. EU regulations apply in general to PSVs carrying more than eight passengers on routes exceeding 50 km, otherwise UK regulations apply. See:

Tachographs: rules for drivers and operators

Employer’s responsibilities

In addition to a driver committing an offence by not having the requisite driver’s licence or by failing to observe permitted hours, the employer of the driver may be liable for causing or permitting the driver to commit the offence.

For this reason and as a matter of good practice, employers must ensure that adequate supervision and training is in place to comply with the law and with insurance requirements. Business Link have information on how employers may verify that drivers are licensed to drive a PCV (see Further information below).


Civil enforcement: licences: may be revoked or suspended in certain circumstances. Failure by a local service operator to adhere to its operating schedule may lead to a civil penalty of £550.
Criminal enforcement: the offence of operating a PSV without a licence is punishable by a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

Further information

Further information and guidance for PSV operators, bus service operators, stretch limousines and other matters are available under the title “Your business sector/Transport and logistics” from Business Link and for driver hours and tachograph rules the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency..

Northern Ireland

Bus operator licensing

What is bus operator licensing and how does it work? Find out if you need a licence or a 10b Permit and details of the application process, when to apply for the initial licence and when to renew.
Jump to table of contents
When to apply

You should apply for an operator licence two months before it is required. If you carry passengers for reward without a bus operator licence, you may be prosecuted.

A guide to licensing for bus service operators - DFI website(external link opens in a new window / tab)

Please note this guide is meant to be a helpful reference: it is not a legal document. Part 1 will help you when completing the Bus Operator Licence Application form BOL1(NI)
Do I need a licence to carry people?

A bus operator’s licence is required to carry passengers in a vehicle that is constructed and equipped for carrying more than nine people including the driver, for hire or reward. Hire or reward means any payment in cash or kind to allow the passenger to use the service.

If the vehicle is constructed and equipped for carrying up to eight people apart from the driver, its operator requires a licence.. See nidirect for separate guidance about operating taxi services.

[Page updated: 03//03/2018]


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