In what is regarded as a test case over community transport operating under Section 19 and Section 22 permits, Traffic Commissioner (TC) Nick Jones is to issue a written decision following a hearing in Cardiff about the operations of Mountain Ash-based Accessible Caring Transport (ACT).
For ACT, Laura Newton told the TC that the firm relied upon the non-commercial aspect of its operations. The TC pointed out that the services had to be exclusively non-commercial.
Chief Executive Officer Gillian Speakman said that the charity held five S19 permits and two S22 permits. They principally operated in the Cynon Valley.
Under S19 they operated two school contracts for Rhondda Cynon Taf Council. The first involved transporting a disabled child and an attendant on a daily basis on which they made a slight loss. That vehicle then went on to a social services contract taking a lady to a day centre, which made a profit.
The second contract involved six children, including two wheelchair users and an attendant, which made a slight profit. All the children were picked up from home and the drivers all had a Driver CPC. The profit went back into the charity to pay for the vehicle maintenance, the vehicles being quite old, and the administration and accommodation costs.
Under S22 the firm provided “range rider services” on different routes five days a week with pre-bookable dial-a-ride door-to-door pick-ups, for shopping, hospital visits etc.
The majority of its members were elderly people, some living in isolation and some in isolated rural areas. Some 98% used its local authority concessionary fare passes. The remainder were charged a £2.75 single fare.
ACT also provided evening services for hospital visits for members of the public. Local bus services would be a lot more expensive.
Ms Newton was unaware of any local bus services operating at the same times and ACT did not operate door to door. The range rider services cost £111,000 a year and made a loss of £28,000.
The £32,000 surplus in the accounts was ploughed back into the charity, paying for the loss on the range rider services and taking members out on day trips. Membership cost £10.
Charlie Nelson, the council’s Transport Manager, said that in relation to the school contracts, ACT had been the existing contractor. When they were put out for tendering in 2018 for the first school contract there was one other tenderer, a commercial operator.
ACT’s price was 85.77% lower and it had a 39.6% higher quality score. On the second contract ACT’s price was 57.9% lower and its high quality score was 19.3% lower. In both cases if ACT had not been given the contract the contracts would have been put out for re-tender as the other contractors’ prices were far too high compared with the average price for such services.
On all of its contracts the council insisted that the drivers all had PSV licences and Driver CPCs and that the vehicles were maintained to PSV standards. There was little interest from commercial operators to take on this kind of work. ACT had a good reputation and went above and beyond what was needed to fulfil the contracts. It would be very difficult to replace them.
If ACT was seriously undermining the commercial market, why had it not got more contracts? It had unsuccessfully tendered for two other contracts since September 2017, which went to a commercial operator.
Ms Newton argued that it was not the case here that it was a cheaper way for the local authority to fund services, as could be the case elsewhere.
These were vital services and the charity was running on the “bare bones” financially. She maintained that both arms of the business fell within the non-commercial criteria.
Reserving decision, the TC said that there were genuine concerns over such operations on both sides of the industry.