London Hire – the vehicle specialist and small-bus operator – says it will be supporting Section 19 operators through the transition many need to make in light of the DfT’s new guidance.
As exclusively revealed last week in Bus & Coach Buyer, the Department for Transport has advised Section 19 and Community Bus Permit 22 operators that they can no longer operate publicly-tendered contracts and must, in some cases, conform with professional driver qualifications, instead of restricted D1 licensing and MiDAS training.
London Hire, which has the largest and most diverse fleet of wheelchair-accessible buses in the UK, also runs O-licensed services with small vehicles at three bases in England, so has a perspective as both a supplier and operator of minibuses.
Group CEO, Nigel Farr commented: “London Hire has a track record of working closely with local authorities, and providing innovative, high-quality accessible vehicle solutions to community transport organisations (CTOs) and private transport operators.
“As members of CTA, we are proud supporters of the CT Sector. We have worked closely with, and delivered creative solutions to a large number of CTOs across the UK for many years.”
Nigel said that, over the last 30 years in business, the sector has seen many changes in legislation, resulting in threats, challenges and opportunities within the passenger transport industry: “The immediacy of this latest change provides arguably one of the greatest challenges to the CT sector in recent years.
“Our entire team is committed to ensuring the sustainability of this sector and we are working on initiatives to support both existing and new customers alike to minimise the disruption to those in our society who rely upon this service.”
“The issues are wide-ranging and we are still evaluating both the impact and potential solutions. Clearly the obvious challenges are that the granting of an O-license can take three months, sometimes longer. Increasing the number of operating discs on a licence can sometimes take three months, too. What happens in the meantime?
“What is the availability of qualified drivers? These have been in short supply since the introduction of the Driver CPC. Training and testing is not an overnight job and we are working to try to come up with solutions to assist in this area.
“There may be redundancy and TUPE issues with existing unqualified staff which could add to strain,” said Nigel. “We don’t know, but it is a real concern to many I would think – especially amongst organisations who have won contracts involving the transfer of staff on local authority terms and conditions and pensions.”
He also questioned whether some vehicles would be compliant with current legislation but suggested vehicle rentals or sale and leaseback deals with PSV upgrade included may provide a solution: “We recognise budgets are tight but with our in-house maintenance and diverse fleet we will generally have a solution that will fit.
“We also don’t know how insurance providers will view the new guidance,” said Nigel Farr. “Does the risk fall back on the local authority or do the trustees incur personal liability? We don’t know currently but these issues need to be considered as a matter of some urgency as there could be significant risk to both the organisations, and the rental companies providing the vehicles.
“What we do understand is that, without the commercial contracts they have been operating, many CTOs will struggle to generate the income needed to keep the local community transport services they offer going.”