The government has made clear its belief in the importance of community transport but agrees it was over-protected
UK government has stated its support of community transport in its response to the Transport Select Committee’s report into the area. In the response to the report, the government said that within the existing legal framework, the government wants as many community transport providers as possible to continue to operate, and retain, service provision for vulnerable community transport passengers.
The Committee recommended collecting and publishing data to compare the road safety records of different types of road passenger transport operators, including those operating under the Section 19 and Section 22 permit system. In response to this, the government stated there is no evidence that drivers employed by permit-holders are less safe than their commercial counterparts. It said the DfT’s proposed actions are not based on a need to improve the performance of permit-holders in this area. The legal challenges to the government are primarily based on fair competition and the correct application of law.
The Committee said the Department must consider whether a satisfactory outcome may have been achieved earlier had it tackled relatively localised issues head on several years ago. The government acknowledged there is a clear case in hindsight that too much focus was placed on trying to protect the community transport sector and to determine what the likely impact on it of applying the Regulation could be. The Department has noted the recommendation and is taking this into account in developing future policy, with options being provided to ministers shortly. It is also in the process of exploring the establishment of a Working Group composed of both permit-holders and commercial operators to consider longer-term policy development in this area.
The government aims to use its consultation into the area as a fact-finding exercise to improve and enhance its understanding of the sector.
Martin Allen to be consulted
The government accepts the Committee’s recommendation to reopen constructive dialogue with the Bus and Coach Association’s Martin Allen. It has committed to meet him during the consultation. Martin was heavily involved with making concerns with Section 19 and 22 operators in competition with regular operator licence holders known.
The Committee suggests the consultation must also be used as an opportunity to consider reforms designed not only to achieve compatibility, but also to maintain provision of high quality, safe and secure community transport services for people who might otherwise be left isolated.
The government shares the Committee’s wish to maintain the provision of high quality and safe community transport, but it does not consider that all of its aims can be met within a single consultation. It said the consultation must primarily focus on bringing UK guidance and legislation into line with the Regulation. The government proposes to partially define the ‘non-commercial’ exemption by reference to competition, by making clear that providing transport services which profit-making operators are unwilling to provide should not be considered commercial. The government agrees with the Committee that issuing guidance to local authorities on procurement approaches together with funding is important to assist the sector. Additionally, the Office of the Traffic Commissioner (OTC) is helping key stakeholders to understand exemptions to the Regulation and all aspects of the requirements for applying for and holding a PSV licence.
A full impact assessment will accompany the consultation. Alongside it, the government is to hold a series of roadshows across the country to meet stakeholders and explain the need to act and its proposals.
The government supports the Committee’s principle of maintaining the availability of drivers in the community transport sector. Data gathered through the consultation is to provide an evidence base on the extent of the driver scarcity.
In response to the Committee’s suggestion of a new hybrid category of transport-only community transport organisations, the government said it cannot accept this recommendation for legal reasons. It also stated introducing a new category, even if it were legally possibly, would create considerable additional disruption to the sector.
Cannot support transition period
The government cannot support a transition period before any widespread enforcement of any new regime. The response said: “The Regulation came into force in December 2011. It has had direct effect in UK law since then and the Department’s view is that its obligations cannot be waived. Where a community transport operator on legal advice can demonstrate that they are taking urgent action to become compliant, enforcement action will not be taken.
The Department also wrote to local authorities in November to encourage them to engage in a dialogue with community transport operators who carry out work for them. As part of the consultation the Department will be investigating suitable alternative operating models. One of the consultation questions asks respondents whether they have separated or are considering the separation of commercial operations which require a PSV licence from non-commercial operations which rely on permits, through the use of separate corporate entities.”
The government has considered the impacts a rush of licence requests that could result from any changes would make. The response said: “Where enforcement authorities indicate that they require additional support, the Department will respond accordingly.”
In the context of Brexit, the Committee suggested legislative change to maintain and foster the UK’s community transport scene. The response said: “Exit negotiations are ongoing and until these are concluded the UK remains a full member of the EU and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force.”