(Title Image: Bridgend Community Transport)
Community transport is (in most cases) a not-for-profit service provided by volunteers to help “fill gaps” in commercial bus services. In light of cuts to bus subsidies by the Welsh Government and local councils, their role is more important than ever – particularly for the disabled and elderly.
Vehicle licensing and regulation is non-devolved and mostly regulated by EU law. The UK Government’s Department for Transport (DFT) is undertaking a consultation on what the regulations might look like after Brexit based on their own interpretation of them.
Community transport drivers are currently exempt from needing a PSV licence because they don’t provide commercial transport. However, as some community transport services take payment (even if not-for-profit) and run services alongside traditional bus routes, this status has been challenged as directly competing against commercial operators (which isn’t allowed under EU law). The UK Government propose changing the system to only allow an exemption (where a driver will only need a permit rather than a full licence) if strict criteria are met.
- Notes that community transport services provide transport for people who face barriers to accessing public and private transport, support people to live independently and access vital services, while also mitigating issues around loneliness and isolation.
- Notes the concern about the DFT consultation on community transport permits (Section 19/22) and the potential impact of this on services in Wales.
- Calls on the Welsh Government to work to ensure the sector can continue in its unique role providing bespoke transport options for vulnerable people; develop contingency plans to mitigate any impact on minibus services delivered through the permits; provide much-needed stability for the sector by moving toward three-year funding agreements.
Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales)
For (the motion): There’s a great deal of uncertainty in the sector.
- 140,000 people and 3,500 community groups are registered to use community transport in Wales, and more than 2million journeys are made every year.
- Community transport provides £3 of benefits for every £1 spent on it.
- Community transport organisations welcome a rise in the amount of money reimbursed to them for concessionary fares, but it still doesn’t cover 100% of the cost.
- Because funding is dealt with annually and is uncertain forward planning is difficult; many operators struggle to raise capital for investment (i.e. to convert vehicles to hybrid or electric).
Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W & S. Pembs.)
For: The service prevents people feeling isolated.
- Without community transport, many of her constituents wouldn’t be able to attend medical appointments, do shopping or engage with family and friends.
- For many people community transport is their only point of contact; they play a vital role in preventing loneliness and social isolation.
- Welsh Government transport and community policies are “incoherent, uncoordinated, and divorced from the front-line”; community transport has had to fill a gap caused by cuts to commercial bus subsidies.
Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan)
For: Paying tribute to services in her constituency.
- The majority of volunteer drivers for such schemes in her constituency are themselves retired or over the age of 70.
- There are concerns about recruiting new volunteers as many will not have the D1 entitlement on their driving licences.
David Rowlands AM (UKIP, South Wales East)
For: It’s the EU’s fault.
- This situation is a direct result of EU directives, which don’t make a clear distinction between non-commercial and not-for-profit service.
- There’s no suggestion community transport is any less safe than commercial bus services.
Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West)
For: They support other services, including the NHS.
- She’s volunteered with two charities who’ve provided or worked with community transport; there was resistance to this from local taxi firms who said they were undercutting them.
- Community transport can’t always fill the gaps when commercial bus services withdraw – citing the current consultation in Bridgend.
- Community transport groups are contacted by the Ambulance Service to make non-emergency trips to and from hospital.
Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery)
For: It saves councils and the NHS money.
- Community transport groups in Powys took more than 8,000 people (6,000 of them being aged 60+, 1,800 disabled) on 106,000 journeys in the current financial year.
- The local council and health board would have to spend £800,000 to plug the gap if the service wasn’t there.
Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
For: We know it makes a positive impact.
- Cited the Health Committee’s inquiry into loneliness and isolation; the service helps both the volunteers and service users and is a “win-win” situation.
Welsh Government Response
Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South)
- The community transport permit system is non-devolved and will remain so for the foreseeable future, but he agreed the services were important.
- Under forthcoming proposals for bus services, community transport groups will be able to bid for public/essential service contracts.
- There needs to be clarity on how much Wales would receive in transition funding once changes are made at a UK level.
- Bus services are vulnerable due to de-regulation by a Conservative UK government.
The motion was unanimously approved.