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Community transport concerns as bus firms launch judicial review challenge

Smaller bus and coach firms have launched a judicial review of the Department for Transport’s interpretation of rules concerning vehicle and driver licensing.

The move has alarmed some councils with rural areas that have become largely dependent on community transport as commercial and subsidised bus services have reduced.

Martin Allen, a spokesman for the Bus and Coach Association (BCA), told Local Government Lawyer that his members felt they faced unfair competition from social enterprises that were able to operate at lower costs than they did because the DfT had misinterpreted sections 19 and 22 of the Permit Regulations 2009.

He said this was because social enterprises were deemed ‘non-commercial’ and need not employ fully qualified drivers for vehicles defined as minibuses, and so could undercut smaller operators when local authorities tendered services for home-to-school, day care and other community transport.

The BCA’s action is expected in the High Court this spring, Mr Allen said.

Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for community transport, told councillors there: “What we don’t want to do is for any of the essential community transport services in Devon to get penalised in any way.

“Many community transport groups are already struggling to replace retiring volunteers, and additional licensing requirements are likely to result in more volunteers leaving schemes.

“The county council has successfully encouraged the development of community transport services in Devon over the past 30 years, including community buses and a network of ‘ring and ride’ services and we want to see them continue. In a rural county like Devon, they make a valuable contribution to the public transport system.”

Mark Smulian