Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Coastal Accessible Transport Service Ltd (CATS) (BUS 50)


1.1  In common with many rural counties, the current public bus transport network in Suffolk comprises fully viable, partially subsidised and substantially subsidised services operated by large national, medium and small localised private companies and some 20 community transport operators (civil society organisations).

1.2  Coastal Accessible Transport Service Ltd (CATS) is an Industrial & Provident Society (for community benefit) based in rural coastal Suffolk and operating 11 vehicles under Section 19 and Section 22 Permits as Community Transport. In 2009-10 we delivered over 28,000 passenger journeys covering some 186,000 miles. Passengers include those unable to access scheduled transport through disability, frailty or rurality. Services include the traditional community transport offer including Community Car Service, Dial a Ride and Wheels within Wheels. These are now supplemented with contract services for Adult Care Services, school children (including those with special needs) and increasingly the Demand Responsive Transport services for the general public which are replacing scheduled services in rural Suffolk.

1.3  CATS is dependent on volunteer drivers for the majority of its journeys but uses paid drivers for contracted services. Some drive on both a voluntary and a paid basis on different services. The voluntary Management Committee also includes our drivers and the disabled'.

1.4  CATS considers that it has represented the best of the "Big Society" since 1998


2.1  We recognise the current requirement for a reduction in public spending but consider a "silo" approach to reduction in public transport support payments through BSOG and local authority bus schemes and services risks the unintended consequence of increasing the overall cost to the public purse.

2.2  Although community transport claims a relatively small element of total BSOG payments, removal or reduction will have a disproportionately large impact on its operators and passengers for whom alternative transport eg cars, is not an option. We believe that evaluation of the broader cost of this impact will identify the true value of this element.

2.3  Reductions in local authority funding for transport particularly in rural areas risks increasing costs for other government departments including benefits for job seekers and residential care for the elderly whilst limiting economic development opportunities.

2.4  The current restriction of concessionary fares to traditional bus services discriminates against those for whom no such service is available. This includes rurally isolated passengers as well as the disabled, frail or elderly.

2.5  Community transport activity is significantly influenced by its passengers who are included as members and shareholders


3.1  Much community transport activity is supported by Suffolk County Council on a deficit funding basis giving no facility for the development of reserves. Withdrawal of BSOG payments from central government increases the call on the County Council's already reducing transport budget. The overall effect is likely to be the closure of many small rural community transport operators.

3.2  Although the numbers of passengers on community and sponsored transport services are small compared to the total number that use public transport, reduction or total withdrawal of financial support including BSOG will mainly impact rural areas, the elderly, local employees and employers, Job Seekers Allowance claimants, students and those not in education or employment (NEETs). This threatens residents' access to the conventional activities of life whilst increasing the overall cost to the public purse. Consider the following examples.

3.3  In her 80s, Pam values her independence. Access to shops, medical appointments, social activities and her church is only possible through community transport. She would otherwise require more expensive residential care and would lose the ability to choose how to manage her life and activities. This also applies to our many passengers who access day care or other support.

3.4  Robert, a wheelchair user, is employed by a successful tourist hotel in a coastal town which has no public transport access. Community transport enables Robert to reach his workplace from his own rural home, contributing to the Treasury through income tax and reducing his demands on Benefits budgets. Community transport also provides the feeder service to the town from the rail station eight miles distant enabling tourists and residents to reduce car use and the associated carbon emissions, increase the financial viability of local businesses, reduce unemployment and retain permanent residents in what would otherwise become second homes with their attendant disadvantages.

3.5  CATS works with some success with the local Job Centre in providing training and voluntary driving placements for JSA claimants, facilitating a return to employment although not necessarily as drivers. We understand that York University has estimated a cost of some £100,000 per person in terms of rent, free school meals, child tax credits and other benefits payments plus lost National Insurance and Income Tax.

3.6  We therefore request that the Committee considers the broader impact on the public purse implicit in the above examples against the relatively small cost of BSOG payments to community transport.


4.1  Commercial network operators are already streamlining both routes and frequency to maintain viable levels of patronage. Proposed withdrawal of County Council subsidies for scheduled services puts more provision at risk and increases demand for community transport. However, much community transport activity is supported by Suffolk County Council on a deficit funding basis thus exacerbating the downward spiral.

4.2  Reductions in local authority capacity for support for community transport threaten access to the conventional activities of life for those individuals and communities least able to access alternative transport. However examples of innovative approaches and good practice within the community transport sector are available from the Community Transport Association (UK) and provide a basis for further mutually beneficial co-operation with local authorities.

4.3  Together with the other communications components including ICT, transport should be considered the "glue" which holds local, regional and national communities together. As demonstrated above, we believe that reduction in the support for bus services, and in particular for community transport must be seen in a wider context. The true impact on the public purse is likely to be a significant increase in overall financial costs. However the costs in human and economic terms, lost opportunities, increased disconnection and disaffection cannot yet be calculated.

4.4  We recognise that this is outside the remit of this Committee, but would urge the Committee to encourage a review of the method of identifying "savings" across Departments and funding streams (silos) in public spending to ensure true efficiencies.


5.1  We believe that dial-a-ride and similar community transport services should be eligible for off-peak concessionary fare arrangements. These passengers are not able to use conventional scheduled public transport and are therefore discriminated against in having to pay for what would otherwise be free.


6.1  As an Industrial and Provident Society for community benefit, our shareholders are the community and determine our activities as well as electing the Management Committee.

6.2  The voluntary Management Committee include CATS drivers and representatives of local community groups who use the services.

6.3  Suffolk County Council undertook extensive consultations before withdrawing scheduled services and introducing Demand Responsive Transport. The services operated by CATS have subsequently been moulded by passengers to meet their travel patterns. After six years, the original service still demonstrates a random pattern. The service in its second year quickly established a regular pattern to meet peak flows with utterly random routing in the intervals. After only 10 weeks, passengers on the latest service have yet to settle.

January 2011

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Prepared 11 August 2011