The palpable panic in the community transport sector, now realising that there is no wriggle room in the DfT’s guidance on Section 19 licensing, is extremely worrying.
This could have been anticipated but CTOs are in the care sector, not the transport sector, and should have been better advised by their supporting organisations. Instead, they were advised to do nothing, first of all on the basis that the DfT was prompted to act because of an ongoing DVSA action (which was not true) and secondly on the basis that the DfT might back-track.
From my knowledge of the new guidance and my experience of having written about a great many CTOs, only those whose income depends almost solely on tendered contracts have a big problem; for many who are currently anguished, the exemptions provided in the guidance leave enough space to continue the core role of carrying isolated and vulnerable people to essential services.
But the sector has never been in greater need of help. Right now, it needs sound financial advice to improve fundraising – perhaps with a national fundraising campaign – and improved volunteer recruitment. It needs local authorities to be creative with diverting funding to CTOs, without swapping grants for tendered contracts – the thing that got CTOs into this mess.
But it also needs transport experts to look at current operations and devise ways of protecting the most essential services within the guidance parameters. The sector will shrink, but I take the view that commercial operators have something to gain from this, and should be thinking laterally. The industry is woefully short of drivers. It seems to me that many of those volunteers driving minibuses are more than half way to becoming a PSV driver.
As a stepping-stone job, driving minibuses short distances, and utilising the huge expertise of CTOs in caring for passengers, could be a route for young people to come into the industry. This is a crisis for CTOs, and it’s time commercial operators stepped up to the plate with some creativity and compassion, to show that it, too, cares about infirm and elderly folk who, in all probability, were once its customers.