MPs have warned ministers that adopting a ‘narrow and legalistic’ approach to regulating community transport could damage the ‘diverse and unique’ sector and the social benefit it provides.
In its first report since the General Election, the Transport Select Committee acknowledges that UK law and guidance have become out of step with some local practice and EU regulations.
Home-to-school transport is a contestable market
But MPs warn that the Government must fully assess the potential knock-on effects of its proposed consultation on essential services to vulnerable people, who would otherwise suffer isolation.
The Committee said it is ‘essential that the social value added by the UK's diverse and unique community transport sector is not lost’.
MPs said while the Transport Act 1985 and associated guidance had established an effective framework for community transport, concerns about licensing some community transport activities via the permit system have been emerging for many years.
It said a group of commercial operators had argued that current practices create unfairness in contestable markets such as home-to-school transport but that despite this, the Department for Transport had acted too slowly and ‘without sensitivity to the sector’.
Committee chair Lilian Greenwood MP said: ‘In general, community transport organisations have acted in good faith and in line with guidance while delivering considerable social benefits.
‘The Department has been forced to act by the threat of imminent legal action, but its consultation should avoid a narrow, legalistic focus. It must not lose sight of the vital policy objective of community transport: the provision of high quality, safe and secure local community services for people who might otherwise be left isolated.
‘Where instances of unfairness occur, they should be addressed. But the Department needs to more fully understand the scale of the problem, and the wider implications of the solutions it proposes. It must not use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.’
Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, backed the committee’s approach. She said: ‘Community Transport is vital for people across the country, especially in places where bus routes have been cut, or where there is simply not enough demand for a commercial bus service to run.’