Concerns over potential changes to community transport consultation
Posted on: 14 May 2018
Concerns have been raised by Devon County Council about the detrimental impact that potential licensing changes for community transport could have on vulnerable people in the county.
In its response to the Department for Transport’s national consultation on the licensing of community transport to comply with EU regulations, the County Council has highlighted how the proposals could affect passengers and community transport operators in Devon.
If the proposals are introduced, voluntary and community transport groups will either have to achieve full commercial licensing standards or meet certain restrictions to gain an exemption from EU rules.
The County Council says this could bring significant additional costs to the sector and may make it uneconomical for some groups to continue to operate.
It has warned that a reduction in community transport services may increase the amount of public spending required to maintain essential transport services for vulnerable people – such as elderly and disabled people and those in isolated rural areas without access to public transport.
A reduction in community transport services could put more pressure on statutory services, particularly social care and the NHS.
In Devon, the community transport sector accounts for approximately 239,000 passenger trips a year (*2016 figures). Community transport schemes are widespread across Devon but they typically operate only one or two minibuses – and none operate more than 10 vehicles.
A survey of community transport schemes in Devon last year revealed there are currently around 75 paid permit drivers and 150 volunteers driving minibuses in the county.
Many community transport groups in Devon also run other services alongside minibus transport, including community car schemes and Shopmobility. If the community group cease operating, these other services may also be lost. The effect on passengers could mean a decrease in access to health appointments at doctors’ surgeries and hospitals, leading to physical and mental health issues not being addressed.
Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for Community Transport, said: “The future of essential community transport services is at stake, which is why it’s so important that we lobby the Government on these issues. Many community transport groups are already struggling to replace retiring volunteers, and additional licensing requirements are likely to result in more volunteers leaving schemes. A smaller pool of qualified drivers could result in marginal services being withdrawn and vulnerable passengers losing out. In Devon there is already a local shortage of Passenger Carrying Vehicle (PCV) drivers for commercial operators.
“The County Council has successfully encouraged the development of community transport services in Devon over the past 30 years, including community buses and a network of Ring & Ride services and we want to see them continue. In a rural county like Devon, they make a valuable contribution to the public transport system. We have a good working relationship with both our commercial and community transport operators locally.”
The pressures on Devon County Council’s budget would restrict the authority from replacing anything but the most essential services. This would mean that all leisure or recreational trips and outings could be withdrawn for those not able to travel on public transport. Charitable community groups are also governed by EU State Aid rules which limit the amount of grant aid they can receive from local authorities in case they gain advantage over their competitors.
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