Government threat to Community Transport schemes
Tthe Department for Transport (DfT) are proposing changes to the Community Transport (CT) Permit system. This affects CT providers that undertake paid services, even if they are small scale and linked to the local community.
If the plan goes ahead CT providers will need an Operators' licence and their drivers will have to obtain Passenger Carrying Vehicles (PCV) licences. This will significantly increase costs. The new regulations will probably also reduce the number of volunteers willing to drive minibuses.
The 1985 Transport Act established a permit system to enable CT groups operating on a not-for-profit basis to carry passengers in a bus or minibus without the need for a Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licence. Many permit holders carry out services for local authorities and other bodies, including school transport contracts and registered bus services.
The problem is that some cases, including in Wiltshire, they've taken on bigger contracts and started to compete with the commercial bus and coach sector.
When Wiltshire Council cuts rural bus services it often uses the existence of CT as a justification, saying people can use their local scheme instead.
Now the bus and coach operators have gone to the European Commission, citing unfair competition.
In Wiltshire 11 of the 22 CT suppliers have contracts and employ paid drivers, so are likely to be affected by the new rules.
Wiltshire Council claims to have a good working relationship with both the commercial and CT sectors. The CT services fill the gaps where the market is unable to provide services; particularly helping vulnerable groups of people including elderly, disabled and rurally isolated.
The government threat is not just to the commercial side of CT. The school, social care and local bus contracts which traditional CT groups operate, and get paid for, help the groups to afford to run additional services such as luncheon clubs, day trips for the community and provision of access to essential services. This work and any opportunities for operating contracts will be lost to the CT groups, unless they convert their operations to an Operators' licence and their drivers obtain Passenger Carrying Vehicles (PCV) licences.
CT groups report that they cannot afford the costs associated with the new rules. The Community Transport Association UK (CTA) estimates the costs for CT groups to become compliant to be at least £11,650 for a one-vehicle, one-driver operation. Additional vehicles and drivers increase these costs significantly. The volunteer trustees of several local CT schemes have reported that they are not willing to continue to operate their services if they are compelled down this route.
Overall, the government's proposals are likely to lead to the collapse of many smaller CT schemes and increased costs for those that survive, if they can keep enough drivers to be viable. People who rely on CT schemes to get around would be stuck. There will also be more costs to local taxpayers as the council would have to provide some of the services.
Wiltshire Council officers have pointed this out to DfT in response to a consultation on the proposals earlier this year. DfT has delayed a decision originally scheduled for the summer, so operators and the council still don't know if and when the new bureaucracy will be introduced.