Proposed changes to the rules governing community transport schemes could have ‘significant implications’ for operators in Northumberland.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has recently concluded a consultation on proposals which could see not-for-profit operations required to have a costly operator’s licence and their volunteers a commercial licence.
This was brought about by a commercial operator complaining that the current regulations were a breach of EU regulations around unfair competition.
Since 1985, all community transport groups operating on a not-for-profit basis have been able to apply for permits to carry passengers without holding the Public Service Vehicle operator’s licence (PSV) that is needed for commercial operations.
Following the challenge by the operator in London, the Government is looking to clarify domestic law and guidance to ensure fair competition for commercial contracts and greater clarity for operators as to their EU legal obligations.
The DfT consultation paper says that ‘the majority of community transport operators should not be affected by any clarification of the EU rules’.
For example, it only applies to vehicles with more than eight passenger seats and would not affect operators in areas where there are no non-community providers or where the service is an occasional activity, organised on a voluntary basis with an unpaid driver for a specific group of people.
However, a spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “The council is aware of this issue and has been working with community transport operators to consider the potential implications, which are likely to be significant.
“We have responded to the Government’s recent consultation with our concerns and await the outcome and next steps.”
In Northumberland, there are currently six operators providing community transport services of one form or another.
The DfT guidance adds: ‘We are exploring other ways to support the sector as well. We are making £250,000 available to fund advice for operators who need a PSV licence and are exploring what further assistance we can give.
‘We are working with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to ensure that a proportionate approach is taken to enforcement in relation to operators who demonstrate that they are working towards compliance and we have written to local authorities to explain that there is no need for them to cancel contracts precipitately’.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service