As you will read here, the Transport Select Committee has now heard evidence from a number of key figures on the subject of the impact of the new guidelines for using S19 and 22 bus permits.
Before that hearing, a number of parties responded to a consultation exercise, putting their point of view. It’s actually quite worrying to read, with some community transport operators (CTOs) showing a misunderstanding of what the new guidelines said, and being deeply concerned although, on the face of it, they would not be in scope of the change.
That is not surprising. Most people running CTOs are not there for the ambition of running businesses, but helping people. And this may be at the core of this unholy mess, which begins with the derogation within EC regulation 1071/2009, which was never really clarified… until now.
It does appear that a number of CTOs may be swept up in the new guidance, and possibly have to close. Others will have to O licence themselves, or hand back contracts. A minority of minibus operators who were abusing the permit system possibly deserve this; a large number of CTOs do not; more importantly, nor do the vulnerable people who depend upon them to provide the entirety of their social life.
Those CTOs may well have found themselves in this position because local authorities, feeling the pinch from central government funding, actively and cynically coerced them into bidding for contracts and into running quasi bus services, taking away their grants with one hand and handing over service subsidies with the other. This was seen by some councils as a way of pegging back contract prices – a tool to provide unfair competition against fully O licensed commercial operators.
But we are where we are. As we have said before in the magazine – and although this industry was right to bring licensing back under control – it will not be cast in a good light if it is seen to have precipitated chaos and loneliness into the lives of elderly and disabled people. In a very real sense, we now owe it to ourselves to extend a helping hand to CTOs, and show that this industry has heart.
You could help run services on your licences, provide training, share transport managers, but above all, talk to your local CTO to see if it will be able to maintain its lifelines to lonely people who would otherwise be stuck in their homes. It is shortly the season of goodwill. We hope you bring it meaning.