A ruling from the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) could have repercussions for community ‘dial a ride’ transport operations across the country, including here in Cambridgeshire.
Until now, many community transport organisations have been operating under special arrangements established for ‘non-commercial’ transport operations. Under these special arrangements, drivers are regulated to a different standard than that which applies to commercial operators. This has caused friction for some time with drivers of hackney carriage and private hire vehicles, who have to comply with more demanding standards and have claimed that they face unfair competition from community transport organisations doing what amounts to commercial work.
The DVSA has now ruled that these less stringent requirements do not necessarily apply to community transport organisations if they are carrying out commercial-type contracts won from a local authority in competition with other providers. And if such organisations are carrying out any services ‘exclusively for non-commercial purposes’, then all of the services they offer must be carried out to standards applied to commercial operators.
This could potentially have implications for local operator FACT (Fenland Association for Community Transport) along with its ESACT and HACT operations in East Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire respectively. They operate a number of services for the county council, including most recently winning the contract to provide the new ‘East Cambs Connect’ minibus service set up following cuts to a number of bus services in East Cambridgeshire.
It’s early days, and it’s not yet clear how all of this will work out. But at the very least it could cause some disruption while it is resolved, and at worst it could mean current contracts being withdrawn and re-tendered.
Meanwhile, investigations into FACT/HACT/ESACT are still ongoing, following various allegations about its operations including grant applications. I asked at the time how this would affect the county council’s decision to award the East Cambs Connect contract to ESACT, and was told it wouldn’t. And a grant of over £13,000 to ESACT from East Cambridgeshire District Council is still being held back after I proposed it would be wise not to allocate this money until the investigations are concluded – one way or another.