The Government “must protect the social value of community transport,” says the Transport Committee.
It is calling on the Government to “demonstrate care and sensitivity” as it moves to consult on reforming the community transport permit system.
In its report, Community transport and the Department for Transport’s proposed consultation, the Committee’s MPs “acknowledge that UK law and guidance have become out of step with some community transport practice and EU Regulations.”
However, warns the Committee, the Department for Transport (DfT) “must fully assess the potential knock-on effects” of its proposed consultation on essential community-based local transport services to vulnerable people who would otherwise suffer isolation.
“It is essential that the social value added by the UK’s diverse and unique community transport sector is not lost.”
It says “concerns about licencing some community transport activities via the permit system have been emerging for many years.”
Referring to the campaign by the Bus and Coach Association, which argues that in some regions current practices create unfairness in contestable markets such as home-to-school transport, the report says the DfT “acted too slowly and without sensitivity to the sector.”
Committee Chair Lilian Greenwood MP says: “Community transport has changed considerably since legislation in 1985 and guidance has developed to fit widely accepted practice. In general, community transport organisations have acted in good faith and in line with guidance while delivering considerable social benefits.
“The Department has been forced to act by the threat of imminent legal action, but its consultation should avoid a narrow, legalistic focus.
“Where instances of unfairness occur, they should be addressed. But the Department needs to more fully understand the scale of the problem, and the wider implications of the solutions it proposes.
“It must not use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. While the Department has a duty to settle the legal issues, protection of essential services that enhance the lives of many thousands of vulnerable people is imperative.
“The Department should get on with the consultation as soon as practicable, but it should broaden the scope in line with our recommendations.”
The Committee recommends the Department for Transport launches its consultation as soon as practicable. The scope should include consideration of:
- – The interplay with commissioning bodies’ duties under the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012
- – Proposals to maintain the availability of drivers across the community transport sector
- – The establishment of a distinct, hybrid category of transport-only community transport organisations, according to size, with proportionate licensing and driver training requirements
- – A suitable, clearly communicated transition period before any widespread enforcement of any new regime, and a range of suitable government support for those required to transition to new operating models
- – The likely capacity implications for the DVSA and Traffic Commissioners for Great Britain of any new regime that requires significantly more applications for PSV operator licenses and professional driver training
- – Proposals for a clearer division of responsibility for regulation, monitoring and enforcement of the permit and operator licensing systems between the DfT, DVSA and the Traffic Commissioners
- – Proportionate measures to collect and publish relevant data, including on the number of permits issued and the type of work undertaken using those permits, including under public sector contract
The report has been welcomed by the industry. Bill Freeman Chief Executive of Community Transport Association says: “Following its investigation into community transport the Transport Select Committee in its report has confirmed; that community transport is invaluable, safe, operating within commonly understood guidelines, and for many people, the only means of getting to where they need to be.
“It is import that the Department for Transport now reflects on the Committee’s findings and considers the range of public policy solutions to ensure community transport can not only survive, but thrive.
“The CTA will be in contact with the Department to again make the point that the upcoming consultation must not take a narrow legalist approach but encourage a discussion on the range of policy options available, including any changes to legislation.”
The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) says: “CPT welcomes the Select Committee’s report which recognises that the legal and regulatory framework under which community transport services operate needs updating.
“CPT has always maintained that large and well-resourced organisations that have been using the permit system to compete unfairly against licensed operators should play by the same rules as those licensed operators.
“The Committee’s report acknowledges that where instances of unfairness occur, they should be addressed. CPT looks forward to participating in the Department for Transport’s consultation, and is confident that the updated legislation will result in a system that is fairer for all operators.”
Lianna Etkind, Public Transport Campaigner, Campaign for Better Transport says: "We welcome the Transport Committee’s recommendations on safeguarding the future of community transport.
“Community Transport is vital for people across the country, especially in places where bus routes have been cut, or where there is simply not enough demand for a commercial bus service to run.
“The Government, community transport providers and local authorities must now work together to ensure that the community transport sector can continue to connect people up to services, friends and family – otherwise even more people will be left alone in their homes, isolated from social contact."
Download the report here