An MP has urged Ministers to “bear in mind the special circumstances that apply in rural areas like North Yorkshire” as it considers changes which could see not-for-profit community transport operations required to have a costly licence.
Rishi Sunak, who is MP for Richmond and was recently appointed Housing Minister, has written to Transport Minister Jesse Norman over the regulations governing community transport operators.
It is feared the Department for Transport (DfT) proposals, which could see not-for-profit community transport operations required to have a costly operator’s licence and their volunteers a commercial licence, may force many lifeline services off the road.
While the legislative changes would affect the whole of Great Britain, counties such as North Yorkshire and Durham with large rural areas are set to be hardest hit by the proposed move.
Mr Sunak said he supported the position of North Yorkshire County Council, which has raised concerns as part of the consultation into the changes to UK legislation.
He said: “I have stressed to the Minister the need to bear in mind the special circumstances that apply in rural areas like North Yorkshire.
“While it is entirely correct that commercial bus operators should not be placed at a disadvantage, in rural areas the majority of the services provided by community operators are not commercially attractive.
“It is vital that we do not place unduly onerous administrative and regulatory burdens on small organisations, many of them run entirely by volunteers.”
The proposals had been sparked by a London commercial transport operator’s complaint to the EU, claiming it was facing unfair competition from community transport which used volunteer labour.
Since 1985, all community transport groups operating on a not-for-profit basis have been able to apply for permits to carry passengers without holding the Public Service Vehicle operator’s licence (PSV) that is needed for commercial operations.
Following the London operator’s challenge it was found the government had been breaching EU law. The DfT says that until Brexit negotiations are concluded, the Government had to apply EU legislation.
Last week, a DfT spokesman said it had written to local authorities to explain that there was “no need for them to cancel contracts precipitately”.
He added: “We are exploring other ways to support the sector as well. We are making £250,000 available to fund advice for operators who need a PSV licence and are exploring what further assistance we can give.”
“We hope that together these steps will reassure the sector, allow those community transport operators which are affected continue to provide valuable services for passengers while they work toward compliance, and to minimise any additional costs which they will incur.”