S19: Agencies face searching questions

TfL’s Leon Daniels says the challenge to community transport running tendered contracts could cause real problems in London

Managing Director of Surface Transport for London, Leon Daniels, has told the Transport Select Committee that loss of community transport services such as Dial-A-Ride would cause significant problems.

In the second oral evidence session looking into the impact of the DfT’s new guidance for Section 19/22 operators, the committee – chaired by Lilian Greenwood MP – heard from the DfT, Transport for London, the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers, Staffordshire County Council, Hampshire County Council, the Secretary of State for Transport, DVSA and Traffic Commissioners Office.

Despite the issue of another letter from the DfT to local authorities, Sue Davey of ATCO said there is still ambiguity around charges made by operators the guidance says can use S19/22 licensing: “The guidance says charges ‘substantially less’ than the cost of providing the service, but there’s no reference to how much less.”

She said that the DfT should put things on hold pending the consultation – promised for ‘autumn’ this year but yet to materialize – and to await outcome of a legal challenge for Erewash CT.

For Staffordshire County Council, Dominic Davidson said he believed many CTOs had sought other income after CTOs lost grants from local authorities. But Peter Shelley challenged the view that contracts went to CTOs to save money: “It is not a cheap option [for Hants CC]…they fulfil a unique role. It is not a way of replacing commercial services.”

Leon Daniels said that TfL now uses S19-licensed CTOs for 20% of its Dial-A-Ride (DAR): “This is on the back of guidance issued 30 years ago,” he told the committee. “If CTOs weren’t able to operate, it would cause severe consequences,” he said, adding that the volunteer drivers would not be willing to sit a PSV driving test and CPC.

He said that TfL had tendered contracts with ‘open procurement’ principles but the commercial sector ‘all failed to bid’ for many of them. Peter Shelley said HCC had the same experience. Leon argued that the commercial sector’s claim that it is inhibited from bidding due to its higher cost base is a red herring: “I would say we believe it’s better to have that money reinvested in the community.”

Dominic Davidson said the reality in Staffordshire was that many services, such as special needs schools, were difficult to cover with commercial services, and that CTOs are ‘very good at it.’

Answering a question about comparable safety between the commercial and CT sectors, Leon Daniels said TfL had experienced no deaths or serious injuries in the CT sector: “Any extra regulation would be disproportionate,” he said, and added that consideration of the Social Value Act should be made in regard of the sector.

Asked how important it is that DfT quickly progresses to a conclusion, Leon Daniels said: “It’s essential. The guidance draws attention to a particular case. The consequence is that a number of local authorities are in panic and have backed away from using CTs.”

Dominic Davidson said he believed the situation may have succumbed to ‘some pretty ferocious lobbying’ but said it seemed the best commercial operators had not been concerned with the S19 sector: “[in the sector] we see exactly the same levels of training and service,” he said, and that restricted commercial licensing ‘…is greatly abused’.

The second session, which saw Jesse Norman, Secretary of State; the DfT’s Stephen Fidler; Peter Hearn of DVSA and Senior Traffic Commissioner, Kevin Rooney as witnesses, the committee heard that, with hindsight, the DfT agreed that the situation may have been managed better but was under pressure to issue guidance as soon as legal challenges were issued.

Kevin Rooney strongly emphasised that the Traffic Commissioners’ Office is independent, and had to remain so, judging each case brought before it on its evidence.

Jesse Norman said: “The safety standards of the CT sector are not as high as the commercial sector. That is not to say the CT sector’s safety record is not as good.” Peter Hearn, for the DVSA, said one of the problems is that the DVSA doesn’t have authority to do unannounced checks in the area of schools.

Stephen Fidler strongly defended the accusation that lobbying had influenced the guidance: “It was not lobbying but the legal position which guided us. Small family businesses are dependent on this business. Lobbying was not a factor in our decision making.”

Who gave evidence?

Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport, Transport for London; Sue Davey, Association of Transport Coordinating Officers; Dominic Davidson, Senior Transport Coordinator, Staffordshire County Council; Peter Shelley, Head of Passenger Transport, Hampshire County Council; Jesse Norman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State; Stephen Fidler, Deputy Director, Road Investment Strategy Client, Department for Transport; Peter Hearn, Head of Operations (North), Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency; and Kevin Rooney, Traffic Commissioner for the West of England, Traffic Commissioners for Great Britain

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