Lets disspell a couple of myths:
Community Transport is not saving bus services.
Community Transport is not saving the public purse any money.
On the first point: Community Transport is being used as a plaster to patch up a crack in a dam. Community Transport does nothing to promote new public transport usage to new users. It serves as an example as to how the public purse is willing to put up with shockingly amateurish performance and delivery if it means they can fund something from the right budget.
In terms of people who have a choice about how they travel, who is going to look at this 13 year old Iveco with most of the windscreen obscured by two conflicting destination cards and think “This is the way i’m going to travel to work!”?
For all the failures of the bus industry over the past 32 years, the drive to improve offerings based on attracting new passengers has been a cornerstone, it has been imperative to the sustainability of the business and this is not a bad thing. Buses carrying lots of passengers require considerably less support from the public purse than those carrying fresh air, therefore it is essential that new passengers keep being attracted to use services.
North Somerset Council today launch their second community transport replacement for a local Weston bus service in as many months. Services C1 and C2 will replace former Crosville and Carmel service 106 to Worlebury. This service was not offered to professional bus operators. When the council was trying to replace Crosville, my last words to a council officer on the subject were “At the moment, i can’t do Saturdays, but if you’re looking for somebody for just Monday to Friday, talk to me again.”. Lo and behold, C1 and C2 will operate Monday to Friday only. This is North Somerset Council gifting a bus service (and the funding that goes with it) to Weston Community Transport at the expense of at least two locally based, tax paying businesses.
It is very unlikely that the service will ever return to the hands of a professional, licenced business with the council preferring to keep supporting this dead duck of an operation which uses unsuitable, step entrance vehicles and amateur staff who seem to think that unloading pushchairs with unsecured passengers on a wheelchair lift is perfectly safe. But hey, that makes them “feel awesome”, so who are we to criticise?
On to my second point; With vehicles purchased through the DfT Minibus scheme and grants from local councils, Community Transport bus services truly are a false economy. They only appear to cost less on paper because the cost of providing them is spread amongst several pots of money. There is no prospect of them ever covering their costs because the majority are run on a “hand to mouth” basis with little forward planning for large investments such as purchasing new vehicles. As long as they cover their daily costs of fuel, staffing and ensuring Sue in the office has enough biscuits, then everything carries on regardless.
It certainly isn’t just North Somerset who are guilty of taking the short term fix. Faced with the loss of Chelston Leisure / LocalLink in Torbay, the local council decides to fund nonsense like this rather than procuring proper replacements. The problem is that the public purse ends up paying just the same – through the DfT, nonsense community grants and local government instead of just local government.