Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Community Buses: The Sections Drive You Round The Bend

I have the feeling I have been sectioned.

Section 19 ... Section 22 ... these are all terms which have recently come into my life.

They're basically 'get out' clauses into how to run a bus service without the usual requirements of having to hold an 'o' or operator's license, meaning that you have to jump through many hoops and satisfy stringent criteria before any bus is allowed to place one wheel on a public highway.

Under the Transport Act (1985) a Section 19 Permit allowed a non-profit making organisation to make a charge to their own members and groups. The non-profit organisations could apply if they were concerned with - Education, Religion, Social Welfare, recreation or other activities of benefit to the community.

Section 22 issues Community bus permits to bodies which wish to run a local bus service which is non-profit making, voluntary and using unpaid volunteer drivers, with the main purpose of serving a community where there is no adequate provision in place.

That's all great.

Fast forward to 2011. The councils, in their haste to cut costs have spotted a loophole. Section 19 has become Section 1984 - Orwellian Section. Section 22 has turned into Section 2001 A Space Odyssey. Councils have tried to crush the commercial bus companies by awarding the contracts, often untendered to charities who say they are running a community bus.

Brilliant. Saves a fortune.

What they haven't thought about are the consequences. Half of the charity operators are now employing drivers - thereby going against the ethos of the 1985 act which called for volunteers. But worryingly, they do not have to adhere to the same strict regulations which cover commercial bus operators and their drivers.

It is risky. The drivers are driving about on mini-bus licences. It may work. But i there is any form of accident, the shit will really hit the fan. Too much cutting corners to save a few bucks.

I was jogged out of my internal, daydreaming rant by a child's voice from the back of the bus.

'I've just seen the huge poo in the toilet'

That didn't sound good. I was driving a tour bus. An old tour bus. But a tour bus nonetheless, equipped with coffee machine and onboard lavatory. I thought I'd locked it.

'It's huge ... and round ... and a funny colour ... and ... and ...and ...'

I closed off my ears and went back to thinking of the more clinical and bland topic of community buses.

Both are enough to drive you round the bend.

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