Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from West Midlands Special Needs Transport (WMSNT) (DAT 23)

Background

1. West Midlands Special Needs Transport (WMSNT) is a charitable company that provides the Ring and Ride Service to the seven metropolitan districts of the West Midlands. The purpose of the service is to provide a door to door accessible transport service for people of any age who find it difficult or impossible to use mainstream public transport due to physical, sensory and/or mental constraints.

2. The Charity provides the service from 8am to 11pm every day of the year except Christmas day in each of the seven metropolitan districts of the West Midlands. 90,000 residents of the districts are registered to use the service, which provides 1.5 million journeys per annum to enable people to go to doctors’ appointments, to attend day centres and luncheon clubs, to visit friends, or to buy their shopping; the Charity operates 150 vehicles and employs 425 full time staff to provide the service. The service has been funded since 1986 by the local authorities through the transport levy raised by the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (ITA).

3. The ITA is providing £11 million to fund the service in 2012–13; the funding equates to approximately 85% of the cost of running the service; the remainder being funded by cash fares paid by service users, surpluses generated from the Charity’s other operations, and Bus Service Operators Grants received from the Department of Transport. The imposition fares was required in 2011–12 due to a cut in the funding to provide the service as a result the current economic situation facing the districts.

Issue

4. English National Concessionary Bus Travel Scheme. Eligible disabled people (and those anyway over retirement age) are entitled to free off-peak bus travel on weekdays and all day at weekends under the English National Concessionary Bus Travel Scheme (ENCBTS). However, as with many similar “dial-a-ride” schemes which are operated under the permits allowed by Section 19 of the Transport Act 1985, the Ring and Ride Service is not able to accept passes issued under ENCBTS in lieu of payment of fares because transport provisions carried out under the Section 19 permit regime are not entitled to claim concessionary travel reimbursement. Thus, those people who are unable to use conventional buses in the West Midlands due to physical, sensory and/or mental constraints, as with many other areas in England, are having to pay towards their travel requirements, whereas able bodied users of the concessionary travel scheme are not; this puts some of the most vulnerable people in society at a further disadvantage.

Solution

5. An amendment to the legislation is required to incorporate dial-a-ride operations which are specifically designed to support people who are not able to avail themselves of public transport, such as the Ring and Ride service provided in the West Midlands, in order that they can be included in the ENCBTS and claim concessionary travel reimbursement. We have discussed this with the Transport Minister, Norman Baker, who has claimed that this would be unaffordable. Our view is that it is inequitable and unfair, and that the Government is potentially vulnerable to challenge.

January 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013