Wales TC allows S19/22 contract competition

Public Inquiry into community transport operator reveals commercial bids were turned away in the CTO’s favour

Welsh Traffic Commissioner Nick Jones has renewed Section 19/22 permits for a South Wales community transport operator which has operated tendered contracts for Rhonda Cynon Taff Council (RCTC) in competition with commercial bids.

The Traffic Commissioner was adjudicating at Public Inquiry on the exemption claimed by Accessible Caring Transport (ACT) of Mountain Ash that it is ‘non-commercial’ under EC 1071/2009, allowing it to operate without a PSV O licence. After a detailed examination of the operating pattern and ACT’s accounts, he concluded that the nine-vehicle operator’s school run falls below the commercial threshold and provides exemption.

During the hearing, RCTC explained that there are 95 operators on its framework, which takes into account operating standard to provide a ‘score’ for each operator. A tendered contract issued by RCTC had received two bids, one from a commercial operator and one from ACT. The ACT bid was 85.7% lower, and ACT’s quality ‘score’ almost 40% better.

RCTC said that the commercial bid was so high that, had it been the only bid, the contract would have been retendered. It wasn’t the only bid, but it was rejected in favour of ACT’s. Another wheelchair-accessible transport contract received three bids competing with ACT, one of which was withdrawn, and another from an operator who committed to buying a suitable vehicle.

Again, ACT won the contract with a bid almost 60% lower than the second-placed operator, although ACT’s quality score was almost 20% lower. RCTC said the commercial operator’s bid price was, though, higher than its benchmarking. It commented that, had there been just the two remaining commercial operators’ bids, and not one from ACT, the contract would have been retendered.

RCTC said, however, that all drivers on contracts had to attain PCV licence standard with CPC, and vehicles be maintained to PSV standards.

The Traffic Commissioner decided that he had sufficient evidence that ACT is not a commercial operator, based on its accounts. He said that the act of bidding against commercial operators did not make it commercial, and that ‘unrealistic’ bids considered too high by RCTC were “not a genuine bid for work.”

“It is clear that so long as contracts are allocated for Section 19 permit holders using what are described as open tendering processes, serious questions may arise,” said Nick Jones. “If there is no genuine competition, why not simply provide for a different procurement process for Section 19 permit holders?” he asked.

He emphasised that this is not a prima facie case, and all other inquiries about Section 19/22 permit operators must be determined on their own merits.

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