Principles and pragmatism
The council audit which revealed the scale of deficiency in the Accessible Transport Group (ATG) in the West Midlands is a shocker.
ATG ran 600 vehicles on a variety of services, including Ring and Ride and schools transport, mainly using accessible minibuses and all on Section 19 permits using paid drivers. We have significant doubts about the legality of that, so to discover that National Express Bus’s West Midlands Accessible Transport, which stepped into the breach to save the services, is using the same permit system is an understandable concern.
However, it is a time for the industry to be as pragmatic as the Traffic Commissioner who made the decision to create this interim arrangement.
However, it is a time for the industry to be as pragmatic as the Traffic Commissioner who made the decision to create this interim arrangement. The bigger picture is that the argument of those who oppose the use of Section 19 permits for contracted services (and other services) is that they would be run better under O licensing, with its raft of checks and balances, all aimed at protecting the consumer from unsafe practises.
That is what has happened in the West Midlands, and we should now be focused on ensuring that the professionalism of O licensing is made obvious, and that WMCA and Birmingham City Council get to see a sparkling performance delivered and services which represent great value for money. I know from conversations with National Express Bus that it is moving heaven and earth to ensure this goes well. You can be assured that Bus and Coach Buyer will be letting you know how this progresses.
The use of Section 19 permits in this instance is far from ideal, and both the TC and NatEx have said so; the services simply could not have been kept running without this arrangement. There are more than 500 drivers to be trained, aside from the issue of creating a company from scratch to take over.
I have said many times that there is a place for a lesser licensing regime but it is not one in which £11 permits are sprinkled like confetti on the market and the permit holders to simply be trusted to run a good, safe transport operation. The vast majority of permit holders do exactly that, to their great credit, but the failure of the FACT services in Cambridgeshire and ATG’s calamity are, surely, ample proof that there is need for oversight before permits are issued, and continual monitoring to ensure services remain safe and legal. In the same way that O licensing is managed.