From October to December, CTA has been holding a series of free online events looking at important topics for the community transport sector, and what life might look like for our members over the next few months and into 2021. Throughout lock-down, our online events, from our weekly member drop in calls to our Recovery and Restart webinar in July, have been great ways for members to connect with each other and the CTA team in what has been a challenging and uncertain time. Your feedback has been that you wanted to see more opportunities for online events looking at the important topics and issues facing the community transport sector at the moment.
For our latest Wales Member Forum, we were thrilled to be joined by Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters MS. Although Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the community transport sector this year, now is the perfect time to look to the future as the Welsh Government has started a conversation about a new transport strategy for Wales, Llwybr Newydd. It was great for our members to hear more about Llwybr Newydd and to question the Minister about the challenges facing the sector.
Setting out his vision for transport in Wales, the Minister suggested that a demand responsive model of public transport will be the future and that technology will make it a much more user-friendly option. To be effective though, this model must be operated ‘professionally, robustly, and affordably.’ The challenge laid out by the Minister was – can community transport step into the space of a professional body running demand responsive services? The Minister believes there will be many opportunities to do this through Llwybr Newydd which will allow community transport operators to become more financially sustainable whilst continuing to provide vital services to the passengers they exist to support. To achieve this, the Minister suggested that the sector could:
Widen its ridership
One of the key aims of Llwybr Newydd is to reduce private car use by making alternative forms of transport more attractive, convenient and accessible. This will also help to achieve Welsh Government’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 95% by 2050. As a result, there is an opportunity for community transport operators to diversify their services and cater to a wider market. Members highlighted that, to do this, investment would be needed to replace older vehicles so that they can compete with what is on offer from other public transport providers. New and greener vehicles will also beessential for community transport to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions. Investment would also be needed for the sector to access the software and technology that is required to make demand responsive transport an attractive option for all types of passengers. CTA is already working with members to understand what type of support is needed to access and embed this technology.
Explore ways to generate more income
The Minister suggested that operating more professionally to increase sources of income would help to make community transport services more sustainable and better placed to take advantage of the wider opportunities which Llwybr Newydd could present. Our members, however, challenged this and argued that many community transport schemes are already operating in this way. Members who have commercial transport backgrounds highlighted that community transport is highly specialised and regularly goes above and beyond to provide caring and personalised support to passengers. Often it is the Transport Act which restricts the opportunities that community transport operators can take advantage of, rather than their professionalism. The Act prohibits organisations operating under Section 19 or 22 permits from generating a profit and acting commercially. As a result, whilst generatingnon-grant income is an important focus for many community transport providers, some sort of external support is always likely to be needed, especially when it comes to large capital costs such as vehicle replacement or digitalisation.
Communicate more strategically
The Minister suggested that the sector needs to be more strategic in how it presents itself and communicates its impact. This includes being able to clearly articulate the additional advantages that community transport operators can bring which commercial operators sometimes cannot. It was recognised that the sector could be better at doing this and that we should not lose sight of the core purpose of providing transport to those who could otherwise become trapped in their own homes. Members also emphasised the need to consider the diversity which exists across the sector, including the significant impact of voluntary car schemes.
The challenge for both CTA and our members is to reflect on how we can better communicate what community transport is and the difference that it makes. These are important questions to consider moving forward and as we respond to the Llwybr Newydd consultation. If you have any thoughts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, as we would love to hear from you.
We would like to thank the Minister for joining us and look forward to continuing this conversation in the future.
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