Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Community Transport Association (IT 54)

INTRODUCTION

  Community Transport is a vitally important part of the transport mix in the UK with many people relying entirely or mainly on the services it provides. Although it is understandable that the "big" issues of private car use and the way railways and buses are organised should dominate much of the discussion around the White Paper, it would be doing a serious disservice to the Government's vision of a fully integrated and accessible public transport system if the role of community transport was not fully examined.

  We welcome the fact that the DETR have commissioned a study into voluntary and community transport activity and know that the findings of this study are expected to be made public at the CTA Conference in December. However, we are concerned that the CT sector is not seen as a wholly separate form of transport and therefore have a number of comments to make about the White Paper itself.

BACKGROUND

What is the Community Transport Association and who does it represent?

  The Community Transport Association (CTA) UK Ltd., was established in 1994 following a merger between the UK-wide Community Transport Services and the London Community Transport Association. Membership includes individuals, community transport operators, other voluntary organisations involved in transport provision, local authorities and other statutory bodies.

  The CTA is a not-for-profit organisation which seeks to promote good practice in the sector by way of publications, training, national advice and information services and development work. It also campaigns for improvements in safety both in good practice and legislation. The CTA has long supported campaigns for a fully accessible public transport system.

What is community transport and why is it so important?

  Community transport (CT) is a term used to describe an ever-widening range of passenger transport services which have been developed to meet the needs of people in the community who find it difficult or impossible to use conventional public transport for whatever reason.

  Services have also been introduced with a view to aiding community regeneration. These include local minibus group hire networks where the provision of affordable, accessible minibuses allows group activities to be developed in a way that would not otherwise be possible. The networks also allow those people with more restricted transport options (such as older, younger, and disabled people) to play a full part in such activities.

  Schemes are operated at a local level and run by elected management committees with a high proportion of user representatives. This ensures that the needs of users remain paramount.

  The CT sector has been at the forefront of service innovation for many years. It is also important to appreciate that the sector has further added value as an exporter of best practice in a range of areas relating to service provision.

  Some notable examples are:

    —  the development of advanced specifications for accessible vehicles to meet a range of needs;

    —  the move away from the image of "special needs transport" as a form of separate and stigmatising transport to that of a modern, accessible service provision to people with an equal right to a reliable service as those more easily able to use public transport;

    —  the development of demand responsive services and techniques;

    —  campaigns for improvements to legislation and established best practice in the area of minibus safety;

    —  pioneering the highest standards in minibus driver training and assessment in the voluntary sector culminating in the establishment of a national certificate (MiDAS) recognised by political parties, trade unions, the Driving Standards Agency, and many local authorities and national charities;

    —  vehicle pooling—the strong encouragement given to vehicle pooling (or brokerage) has meant a vast increase in the availability of transport to many local groups and people. Fleet management of pooled vehicles by trained CT staff has also led to better safety and maintenance records;

    —  training—the provision of expert training sessions on a wide range of subjects has also led to a growth in the skills and professionalism of staff and volunteers alike working in this area.

  Many community transport schemes also make great use of volunteers, both as drivers in community car schemes and as escorts. The well-structured use of volunteers in the CT sector, underpinned by comprehensive training and induction, adds considerably to the capacity of such projects to meet demand. It also adds a further dimension of community involvement which both the current and previous government have been keen to encourage.

  The community transport sector is also unique in both operating services for disabled (and many other) people and being a voice for their needs. As a network of not-for-profit transport organisations, the primary aim of CTs has always been the needs of the user and that has been expressed in various ways from the introduction of new services in response to demand to the advocating of changes in legislation to make public transport more accessible.

  There is a clear need for a massive change in the patterns of transport provision and the Government's White Paper's recognition of this is most welcome. The community transport sector, probably the most vibrant and innovative of any group of providers in the transport field, is in a position not only to advise on the forms of change needed but also to help bring those changes about.

1. ENSURING FULL ACCESS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE

  Although we welcome the Government's unequivocal commitment to full access rights for disabled travellers a number of issues remain not fully answered by the White Paper.

  Paragraphs 3.92-3.94 describe some of the measures being taken to ensure public transport vehicles are eventually made fully accessible. Although the measures under the DDA are welcome (and long overdue), the relationship between staff attitudes and training and the physical accessibility of vehicles is extremely important. A number of bus routes in London have been operating low floor buses as part of a trial for some time and although much used by parents with buggies (less by wheelchair users) some problems have become apparent:

    —  double decker buses are frequently run on these routes too—it can be very frustrating to wait 10-20 minutes for a bus that is publicised as low floor only to discover that when it arrives it is in fact an inaccessible double decker. Although in the long term, this problem will not exist, bus companies need to be working now to encourage disabled people and others with mobility restrictions to start thinking of the bus as a viable means of travel. If a low floor route is to win new passengers then people must be confident that all buses on that particular route will be accessible.

    —  even some of the kneeling, low floor buses can not be fairly described as accessible unless the drivers pull into the kerb properly and activate the kneeling mechanism at each stop—not all disabilities are visible and the driver should be wary of assuming he or she knows that certain passengers do not need the facilities offered by the vehicle. This, again, is a constant problem on some existing low floor routes and illustrates the urgent need for a full programme of driver training to support the welcome changes being introduced in vehicle design.

    —  low floor, accessible buses are a marvellous innovation but only benefit those who can make it to a low floor bus stop. There will clearly still be a need for door-to-door services but, crucially, there is also going to be a need for the operators of mainstream public transport vehicles and those of more specialised door-to-door services to work closely together to maximise any opportunities that may exist for integrating services. It is to be hoped that local authorities through their Local Transport Plans will help to ensure this happens.

  Additionally, the Government should recognise that even with the anticipated improvements in the accessibility of public transport, many disabled people will still have far fewer travel options than most other people. In devising plans, therefore, that may aim to restrict car use (whether by road charging or other methods), care should be taken that either through the individual vehicles owned by disabled people or the vehicles operated by Dial-a-Ride and others for the benefit of disabled people, those with limited travel options are not unfairly penalised. For example, a system of exemptions to road charging could be introduced. Indeed, it would be useful if the Government, in introducing trials for road charging systems, included an examination of different ways of identifying and exempting individual drivers from road charges.

  We welcome the Government's instruction to local authorities (3.96) to ensure that land use and planning decisions as well as local transport plans address access issues. We would recommend that in the guidance notes promised to assist this process, strong emphasis is given to the need to consult local groups of disabled people at an early stage.

2. INTRODUCING MEASURES TO SUPPORT AND ENHANCE THE COMMUNITY TRANSPORT SECTOR

  Although disabled people from a large constituency within community transport, the CT movement addresses the needs of many other diverse groups of people who are all, one way or another, disadvantaged by a reduced mobility. Community transport runs services in rural areas where there are limited (if any) bus routes in operation, provides safe transport for women who have fears for their personal security (particularly travelling at night) and operates a network of community minibus hire services which helps regeneration efforts and supports the local voluntary sector.

  The superb track record that community transport has in identifying unmet need at an early stage and developing imaginative solutions to transport problems should be utilised by local authorities as they get to grips with the challenges the UK Government has presented them with in this White Paper.

  Obviously, at a local level, this means local authorities ensuring that the CT sector is centrally involved in the development of Local Transport Plans (LTPs). CTs have a unique role in that they are both transport provider and advocate for those most in need of improved transport options. All local authorities should be encouraged to recognise this and get them fully involved in LTPs.

  As a precursor to the White Paper, the Chancellor announced in his March Budget a new tranche of money to revitalise rural transport. This initiative included a significant proportion ring-fenced specifically for community transport and the CTA has worked closely with the DETR, the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and the Department of Environment (Northern Ireland) to target those funds where they are most needed. However, there are also other things that national government can do to further support the sector.

  These include:

    —  making Fuel Duty Rebate available to Section 19 operators;

    —  requiring local authorities to allow Section 19 and car scheme operators to draw from local concessionary fares schemes;

    —  review Inland Revenue rules on volunteer expenses to assist community car schemes in the recruitment of volunteer drivers;

    —  helping to fund pilot projects designed to develop models for integrating door-to-door transport with "mainstream" public transport;

    —  requiring local authorities to permit Section 19 vehicles to use all bus lanes.

3. CONCLUSION

  The CTA welcomes the Government's White Paper as the first step of, we hope, many to put transport back on the top of the agenda, to create a fully accessible, integrated, responsive, reliable public transport system that caters for all in society.

  We are concerned that, whereas in the past big road schemes excited and dominated the thinking of far too many Governments, national and local, in the future too much attention may be given to multi-million, multi-modal infrastructures at the expense of the smaller scale, but equally vital, work undertaken by the likes of those people working in community transport.

  We very much hope that in its deliberations, the ETRA Committee is able to give some space and time to the needs of our sector. This should not be just about supporting our continued existence. The culture, philosophy and above all the experience of community transport in the last 15 years should be plundered for the lessons that can be learnt in the creation of a transport system that is for everyone and not just for the commuter.

Martin Jones

Communications Director


 
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