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June 05 2019
By Leon Daniels

Leon has enjoyed a stellar career within the bus industry, including a spell as Managing Director of Surface Transport for Transport for London. He writes a column for routeone in his capacity as an Advisor to Optibus.

Community transport is in ‘turmoil’

CT sector plays a huge part in society. Changing any rules due to Brexit would be ‘unfair’ and will come at a cost

The uncertainty over Brexit reminds us that recent action by the EU has put Section 19 of the Transport Act 1985 and community transport (CT) into turmoil.

CT sector prevents loneliness and isolation for those most in need

The permit system was designed to allow voluntary organisations using small buses to operate with certain exemptions, including for drivers not to require a full D1 licence. The DfT’s predecessors and the EU were in agreement that ‘non-commercial’ and ‘not for profit’ were synonymous.

Filling a gap

Over the decades, as local authority budgets and commercial service provision – especially in rural areas – declined, the CT sector increasingly filled the gap preventing loneliness and isolation for those most in need.

For some, being able to take a bus to the supermarket, shops or doctor is their only opportunity for social interaction.

When people can travel, rather than be cared for at home, there are public savings in health and social care. However, there is a transport cost and that is why the contribution of the CT sector is so valuable.

Regardless of size of the CT, their charitable status ensures all surpluses are reinvested in the communities, further reducing the burden on the taxpayer.

Some commercial operators have claimed that they have been unfairly undercut when bidding for contracts. But in any world of competitive tendering the pot is fixed. Higher contract costs would mean less transport overall and society’s most vulnerable affected.

‘Huge backlash’

Over the years, the CT sector has been increasingly propping up services in place of a mostly absent private sector.

Thus, when in July 2017, the DfT attempted to redefine the 1986 arrangements and in particular the definition of ‘non-commercial’, it is not surprising that there was a huge backlash from those most affected.

The government has encouraged a cottage industry to grow and fill the gaps caused by the withdrawal of commercial services and cuts in local authority spending. Changing the rules now unilaterally is unfair and crucially will cost the wider public purse more.

If the CT sector is annihilated it is likely to lead to fewer transport opportunities for housebound and isolated people. The change commercial sector’s gross margin will barely be noticed.

Onerous standards

The case for increased regulation can be justified in dealing with performance failings – however the CT sector barely registers on any measure of vehicle prohibitions, poor driving standards or killed and seriously injured.

In fact, the requirements for MiDAS are much more onerous than for Driver CPC and I recall – and as I told the Transport Select Committee – that when we ran an open competition for London’s Dial-a-Ride, none of the commercial operators met the pre-qualification standards whereas the CT operators did.

For these reasons, there are no grounds to make any changes. And this applies no matter which EU we are in.

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