County council raises concerns over ‘detrimental’ community transport changes

PUBLISHED: 08:00 26 May 2018

Exmouth & district community transport Chairman Cllr Jill Elson with volunteer driver Tony Holland. Ref exe 16 18TI 1447. Picture: Terry Ife

Exmouth & district community transport Chairman Cllr Jill Elson with volunteer driver Tony Holland. Ref exe 16 18TI 1447. Picture: Terry Ife

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Concerns have been raised about the ‘detrimental’ impact potential licensing changes for community transport could have on vulnerable people in Exmouth.

Devon County Council (DCC) has been responding to the Department for Transport’s national consultation on the licensing of organisations like the Exmouth and District Community Transport Group.

The authority has highlighted how the proposals could affect passengers and community transport operators in Devon.

If the proposals are introduced, Exmouth and District Community Transport Group will have to achieve full commercial licensing standards or meet certain restrictions to gain an exemption from EU rules.

DCC says this could bring significant additional costs and may make it uneconomical for some groups to continue to operate.

Councillor Roger Croad, DCC cabinet member with responsibility for community transport, said: “The future of essential community transport services is at stake, which is why it’s so important that we lobby the Government on these issues. Many community transport groups are already struggling to replace retiring volunteers, and additional licensing requirements are likely to result in more volunteers leaving schemes.

“A smaller pool of qualified drivers could result in marginal services being withdrawn and vulnerable passengers losing out.

“In Devon, there is already a local shortage of passenger carrying vehicle (PCV) drivers for commercial operators.”

Exmouth and District Community Transport Group currently has a 16-seat bus with a passenger lift and two smaller MPV vehicles, one of which also has a lift.

Even under current regulations, only drivers who passed their test before 1997 are automatically allowed to drive a minibus with 16 seats.

Speaking to the Journal last month, district councillor Jill Elson, who founded the group in 1990, said it would struggle to find the extra £2,000 needed to train each driver, or to buy two eight-seat vehicles, at around £45,000 each.

She said: “The severe risk is we will have people who are unable to use the bus and will be isolated in their own homes – and that I will not have.”

Fundraising is already under way to try and ensure the service and its fares remain unchanged.

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