Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Soar Valley Bus Ltd (BUS 44)


Soar Valley Bus was incepted as an Industrial and Provident Society under the 1965 Act in September 1979 with the object of "operating transport services for the benefit of the community and to assist the work of organisations and bodies engaged in the relief of poverty, sickness and the disabilities of age, the provision of facilities for recreation or other leisure time occupation within the meaning of Section 1 of the Recreation Charities Act 1958 and any other charitable purpose in Rushcliffe and District".

It also provides a public transport service. For a number of villages it is the only public transport available.

Our organisation is governed by the rules of the Financial Services Authority to whom it submits an Annual Return. The organisation is now also registered as a charity under both the Inland Revenue and the Charity Commissioners.

From its headquarters in the family home of the currently appointed Operations Manager, it has been in continuous operation for 31 years, organised by an unpaid Committee of seven volunteers and a pool of some 30 unpaid volunteer drivers, drawn from the residents of the villages of the Soar Valley in the Rushcliffe Borough area to the south of Nottinghamshire. No-one in our organisation is paid or claims expenses and any operational "profit" is placed in a vehicle replacement fund. I have been both the Operations Manager and its Treasurer since 1999.

We operate ONE wheelchair accessible, low-floor, 16 seater minibus. All drivers take a stringent driving test, are CRB checked and undergo a medical before being issued a Permit to Drive by Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC). The vehicle carries both a S22 and a S19 Permit from the Department for Transport. Our vehicle has a Preventative Maintenance Inspection at six-weekly intervals and an annual MOT.


Soar Valley Bus has always operated 14 S22 scheduled services per week within a 30 mile radius of our operating centre, its routes registered and approved by the Department for Transport. Each service is registered as "hail and ride" and is able to be accessed by any member of the public in the same manner as any other public transport operation. These services initially received funding from the NCC Community Transport Budget, but, since October 2009, have been financed from the NCC LTP Budget at a daily rate under deminimis contract. Fares are payable on these services and concessionary fares and BSOG are claimed. These services account for some 80% of our operations. In the financial year 2009-10, we received LTP payment of £15,400 and carried 12,345 passengers, representing an annual cost per passenger of £1.25.

Most of our remaining services operate under S19. One weekly service is partially funded by a local Parish Council to provide a door to door service for the elderly frail infirm, the disabled and those with dementia, to allow access to shops, doctors, town facilities, a day centre and luncheon clubs. Two regular weekly services provide transport during term time between school and nursery facilities for working parents.

In addition, as need arises, we transport school children on educational visits and to and from "before and after" school clubs, residents to clubs and societies and the elderly on day trips. Based upon mileage and number of passengers carried, NCC provides limited funding from the Community Transport Budget. In the financial year 2009-10, we received an NCC grant of £1,196 and carried 2,300 passengers, representing an annual cost per passenger of £0.52.

The S22 Permit allows us to obtain additional, much needed, income from private hire of our vehicle, with a volunteer driver, to individuals in the evenings and at weekends.


The cost of diesel continues to rise, while BSOG decreases. Our vehicle is now six years old. The older the vehicle, the greater the fuel consumption and carbon emissions. We have therefore been unable to claim the available increased BSOG rate. Equally, NCC have not yet decided when Smartcard ticket machines are to be fitted in community vehicles or if AVL equipment is to be implemented. Hence we cannot claim these new BSOG incentives. If a Smartcard ITSO ticket machine is eventually fitted to our vehicle, its data will need to be downloaded daily to two central sources. Our organisation has no office and no computer equipment or WiFi. It operates from my home and will require me to journey twice daily to our vehicle garage, collect the equipment and install the necessary upload devices on my personal computer in my home.


Until late 2009, our funding was derived totally from the Community Transport Budget with an annual grant intended to contribute towards vehicle and public liability insurance, vehicle maintenance and repair, driver training and medicals, upkeep of a garage, VOSA applications and assistance with match funding for a new vehicle. All these costs are increasing.

We will still receive a small community budget grant to operate S19. The transfer of our S22 services from the NCC Community Transport Budget to the NCC LTP Budget, has had both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand we are assured of limited financial support for our S22 services at a time when the NCC Community Budget continues to be cut whilst, on the other hand, our voluntary organisation is now perceived by the County Council as a business, regarded by the Department for Transport as operating in the same manner, under the same regulations, as the major transport providers. The latter are reducing services on uneconomic routes in our rural area and none operate a Sunday service to allow travel to family or social activities. NCC have axed Dial A Ride services and reduced the finance for car schemes from the Community Transport Budget, thus increasing the necessity for our services. Legislation now allows for the payment of S22 voluntary drivers. Our income would not allow for payment at minimum wage rate, either to drivers or committee members, and if we pay one, we must pay all. How could one differentiate?


Over the past 11 years, having conducted a number of surveys with all sections of the community and journeying periodically on each service we provide, I have never come across one elderly, disabled or disadvantaged passenger who objected to paying the original half fare to travel. We were assured of an income from that half fare. The result of the introduction of the full fare concession is both a loss of income to the major bus providers and to community transport, a real difficulty for county councils to pay operators at the full loss rate from their current budgets and an influx of relatively well-off passengers travelling long distances free of charge, rather than locally as was understood to be the intention of the legislation. Situated on the border of three counties, our vehicle travels some 26,000 kms annually in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire within our thirty mile rural radius. A monthly claim must be made to each county and each has either a different percentage rate of payment or a negotiated annual payment for refund of concessionary fares. What is clear is that on average, for every pound lost in fare revenue, we are being re-imbursed less than half.


Our aim has always been to identify the transport needs of everyone within the community, in particular the under-privileged, those on low income and the elderly and then to find a way to satisfy those needs. The essence of community transport is its ability to be flexible, to be able to quickly adapt to the changing needs of the community it serves. By its very nature it also provides social care. It is particularly essential for the elderly. It promotes dignity and independence, self-respect and helps to prevent social isolation. Our drivers operate a "door to door" service on each route, if necessary, lend a listening ear, carry the shopping of the frail elderly, push wheelchairs around supermarkets and towns and generally provide a social network by introducing them to others and to community activities. It is well documented that the greater the sense of wellbeing and contentment of an individual, the less will be the need and the drain on the financial resources of the NHS and social care facilities.

Much has been done by Government and the major bus companies to provide low floor buses with wheelchair provision. However, this does not meet the needs of those who, for example, cannot walk a distance to a bus stop, those who cannot carry their shopping up the hill back to their homes, those who can't lift their shopping trolleys or walking frames onto the bus, those who don't feel safe when a driver moves off before they have sat down and those genuinely fearful of being out on their own.

Often too many rules and regulations inhibit the flexibility to provide these essential services and nothing can function without adequate finance.

Are we a national transport provider or are we a community bus? What we are not is a business. Our organisation is operated and driven by pensioners. Often communication with both the Department For Transport and the DVLA reveal that their employees are unaware of the regulations to which we must adhere and the diversity of our operations. We are slotted into transport regulation, legislation and financial support designed for the major transport providers. Community Buses need to be treated separately, with a secure funding system. For thirty odd years, the residents of this area have given their time and money to contribute to what is now being called the "Big Society". If budgets are cut further, if we are subject to ever more restrictive regulation, form-filling and continue to be under-funded, volunteers will not come forward in the future.

We wish to remain an unpaid organisation benefitting the community.

January 2011

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Prepared 11 August 2011