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.

Prepare to drive in the EU after Brexit

After 31 January 2020 there will be a transition period until the end of 2020, while the UK and EU negotiate additional arrangements.

The current rules for international bus and coach drivers will continue to apply during the transition period.

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.

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)

Carrying passengers

You need a bus operator’s licence to carry passengers if you use 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, it is a taxi, not a bus. There is separate guidance about operating taxi services.

A bus operated under a permit cannot be used to carry members of the general public and cannot be used to make a profit or for commercial purposes. A bus used under a permit is not available for private hire.

Permits for large buses

Permits for large buses over 16 seats are issued by Passenger Transport Licensing Division (PTLD) of the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA).

Permits for small buses

Permits for small buses are not issued by PTLD but by 'designated bodies'. The information below is as reported by these designated bodies and cannot be certified as complete or accurate.

Organisations with permits

The following document details organisation which have either a large or small permit. 

Getting a bus operator's licence

You must apply for a Basic Disclosure Certificate from AccessNI for your first application and then once every five years.

You can apply for a Basic Disclosure Certificate online from the AccessNI website.

You can also apply by post. It will take longer for your check to be completed by post and you will not be able to track its progress.

To apply by post, you must:

  • download and complete an AccessNI application form
  • visit a police station where a police officer can verify your home address and identity on the application form
  • send the form with the appropriate fee to AccessNI (cheque or postal order)

When AccessNI completes the check, they will send you a basic disclosure certificate

Once you have obtained your Basis Disclosure Certificate, download and complete the application form

You must also complete another sheet (BOL2) and give details of the types of service you will be operating. For example, tours or shuttle bus services.

For queries and information about the fees, contact:

Renewing your Bus Operator's licence

Licences are usually issued for a period of one year but a shorter period may be considered where regulatory action is ongoing.

 DFI will usually send you an application form (BOL1) and supplement sheet(s) (BOL2) about eight weeks before your current licence is due to expire. However, you should always note the expiry date of your licence and make sure you apply to renew your licence before the expiry date of your current licence, in order to remain licensed.

It is your responsibility to make sure you have a valid licence. DFI has no duty to issue a reminder and the absence of a reminder will not be accepted as a reason for failing to renew a licence. 

Providing a valid application for a renewal licence is made before the expiry of the old licence, the old licence will stay in force until a decision is made on the new application.  If you are applying for a new bus operator’s licence, or if your previous licence has lapsed before you reapply, then the licence will commence from the date when all the relevant information is available and not the date of the expiry of the previous licence.

Commercial bus service permit

You need a commercial bus service permit from DFI to operate a public passenger transport service in Northern Ireland.

The types of service which need a permit are:

  • Regular stopping services
  • Express services
  • Sightseeing services
  • Demand responsive services
  • Event-specific services
  • Taxibus services

DFI will consider service permit applications according to:

  • the suitability of the route
  • any other ongoing or previous applications
  • how the needs of people likely to use the service are currently catered for
  • the effect that granting a service permit would have on other permit holders or the contracted network
  • the need to ensure fair competition

For various commercial bus service applications forms and more information, visit the nibusinessinfo website.

Licensed bus operators 

The following document is a list of licensed bus service operators. International licence holders can operate cross-border. National licence holders operate within Northern Ireland.

To view the current list of applications for a Bus Operator licence, follow the link below:

More useful links

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