Protecting community transport

Community transport includes diverse services, from rural bus services running a set route, to local school minibuses driving pupils to sports events. It’s always run for the good of a community but never for profit.

Community transport is an essential part of our rich, diverse and broad voluntary sector. However, many transport operators are concerned by proposed changes to how transport legislation affects them. You can read more on the legislation changes and how to get involved on the Community Transport Association blog.

The journey so far

Since the Transport Act 1985, community transport operators have been able to run their services through Section 19 and 22 permits, rather than the full public service vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence that commercial operators need. This means rules for community transport operators are more cost-effective and proportionate than for commercial operators.

The lines become blurred when local authorities award contracts to community transport operators through competitive tender. Some commercial operators have claimed that in tendering processes, community transport operators gain an unfair advantage when bidding for contracts, because the licenses and permits community operators must hold are significantly cheaper to obtain.

These commercial transport operators successfully challenged the UK government in 2015 by invoking an existing EU Regulation, which takes precedent over the Transport Act 1985.

The interpretation of this Regulation by the Department for Transport (DfT) (set out in a letter in July 2017 to holders of section 19 and 22 permits) is that community transport operators running services under tender may now need to apply for the same PSV license that is required of commercial operators.

How changes might affect community transport

There are fears over how some charities can afford to meet these new requirements, and if additional licensing and tests will deter volunteer drivers. Many are also frustrated that these problems are brought by competition law applying to competitive tendering processes- when many charities were reluctant to enter into such processes in the first place.

There is also a question about the proportionality of the requirements. The Transport Select Committee in its own inquiry warned that the government risked ‘using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ in applying this legislation.

And through all of this, a lack of clarity from government on how exactly the Regulation will be applied and who it will affect has created great confusion and anxiety.

Moving forward

The DfT are currently consulting on the proposed implementation of the Regulation and community transport operators can contribute to this until May 5. The Community Transport Association have produced resources to help you respond.

If you want to get involved in other ways or get more information on how changes to transport legislation will affect you, visit the Community Transport Association website for further information and find out how you can get involved.

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Avatar photo Up until July 2018, Will supported NCVO’s policy work on volunteering development. His interests include the role of volunteering in public services and removing barriers to youth volunteering. He produced the monthly volunteering round-up blog and supported Volunteers’ Week.

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