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Community Transport inquiry launched

10 October 2017

The Transport Committee is launching a new inquiry into the licensing arrangements for community transport minibuses and the broader sustainability of the community transport sector, which provides essential access to transport to many vulnerable and potentially isolated people.

Inquiry background

Community transport operators range from small community groups with a single vehicle to large community transport organisations (CTOs), whose sole purpose is the provision of transport services, often delivered through competitively tendered contracts with local authorities. Services include school, hospital and residential care transport, dial-a-ride services for disabled people, and rural, non-commercially viable community minibuses.

The outcome of a recent Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) investigation into the licensing arrangements of an individual CTO, and the Department for Transport's (DfT) response, indicates a new approach to the longstanding arrangements for the licensing of CTOs and their drivers, with potentially significant effects on the sector.

How can I submit my views?

Written evidence

The Transport Committee calls for written evidence from interested stakeholders—including users of community transport; CTOs; commercial operators and their representative organisations; local authorities; and Traffic Commissioners—addressing one or more of the following terms of reference:

  • The effectiveness of the DfT, DVSA and Traffic Commissioners' guidance to, and regulation of, community transport: in particular, the DfT's role in providing clarity to the sector about the implications of EU Regulation EC 1071/2009 and the July 2017 outcome of a relevant DVSA licensing investigation of an individual CTO
  • The effects on commercial operators of the longstanding approach of licensing community transport services via Section 19 and/or 22 permits (Transport Act 1985)
  • The safety, security and service quality implications of licensing community transport services via such permits
  • The potential effects in the short and longer term on different types of CTOs, and the people who rely on their services, of a move away from permits towards PSV operator and PCV driver certificates and licences
  • Suggested approaches to the funding, commissioning and licensing of community transport in the short and longer term, to ensure community transport services, particularly for vulnerable and potentially isolated people, can be safely maintained in a sustainable and value-for-money way

Submit your views through our Community Transport inquiry page. Deadline for written submissions is Friday 3 November 2017.

Community Transport web forum

The Committee is keen to give people, particularly users of community transport services and smaller organisations an alternative way of submitting their views.

Chair's comment

Lilian Greenwood MP, Chair of the Transport Committee, said:

"Many people rely on community transport services to access healthcare, education, employment and leisure. These include people with disabilities and people in isolated rural areas, which are poorly served by conventional, commercial services.

Our inquiry, in response to recent interpretations of the licensing rules, will take a balanced look at the community transport sector, including how to ensure a level playing field for competitively tendered contracts, where appropriate. Ultimately our concern is that socially valuable community transport services are protected and remain sustainable in the long term." 

The 1985 Transport Act and EU Regulation

The 1985 Transport Act provides exemptions from Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operator and Passenger Carrying Vehicles (PCV) driver certification and licencing requirements to two categories of community transport service, which can instead be provided on the basis of permits issued by Traffic Commissioners:

  • Section 19 permits may be used to operate mini-buses (9¬–16 passengers), where they are run on a not-for-profit basis and carry restricted groups of passengers (e.g. school children or people attending hospital appointments); and
  • Section 22 permits may be used to operate the same type of vehicles, also on a not-for-profit basis, and carry members of the general public (e.g. hail and ride services in isolated rural areas).

Commercial operators have had concerns about CTO and driver certification and licensing for some time, particularly since EU Regulation EC 1071/2009 came into force in 2011. The Regulation imposes common rules for the provision of road passenger transport, with derogations for services provided "exclusively for non-commercial purposes". In April 2015, the European Commission issued a formal "notice of infraction" to the Department for Transport (DfT), following a complaint on behalf of a UK-based commercial operator.

DVSA investigation and DfT responses

The situation has recently been brought to a head by a Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) investigation into the licensing arrangements of an individual CTO, and the DVSA's and the DfT's (Department for Transport) responses. The operator in question runs a range of community transport services, some under contract to local authorities. The DVSA's conclusion was that, because some of the CTO's local authority contracts had been competitively tendered, the CTO could not be considered to be engaged in the operation of transport services "exclusively for non-commercial purposes". The DVSA's conclusion was that licensing exemptions therefore did not apply.

On the same day, the DfT wrote to all issuers of Section 19 and 22 permits stating that:

"An operator whose activities are essentially those of a bus company (in that it employs salaried drivers and carries out passenger transport services under contracts won in contestable markets and/or in exchange for fares charged to passengers at more than nominal rates) cannot be regarded as carrying out its activities "exclusively for non-commercial purposes". That is so even if the operator is a registered charity or other "not for profit" organisation."

The DfT acknowledges that CTOs that have been relying on Section 19 and 22 permits have been doing so in accordance with official guidance.  It states, however, that it has "become increasingly apparent" that "guidance has not kept pace with developments" in the community transport sector. It intends to consult on the issue later this autumn. 

Further information

Image: iStockphoto