Transport’s unsung heroes could be taken off the road by red tape

Tens of thousands of vulnerable people rely on the unsung heroes of community transport. But changes in regulation could take them off the road for good.


Britons travelled a combined 493 billion miles last year, all of us benefiting one of the most sophisticated transport networks in the World.

But while the headlines are dominated by projects like Crossrail or HS2, it’s buses that do the heavy lifting: 2 in every 3 journeys taken by public transport are taken by bus.

And the unsung heroes of Britain’s bus network are the dozens of independent community bus services across the country. These services are run on a not-for-profit basis and often draw on support from volunteers and the wider community.

Community transport is Britain at its best. People coming together to ensure that neighbours aren’t shut away at home, but have the means to get out and about, and stay connected to the people and places that are important to them.

We ought to be celebrating these vital services and the dedicated people who run them. Indeed, we at the Co-operative Party believe community-owned transport ought to be the first choice for running local bus services, not the exception, and via our People’s Bus Campaign have been fighting to give these bus operators a greater role.

But far from being supportive, this week the Department of Transport issued guidelines that have left the whole community transport sector wondering what its future might be. 

The new guidelines change how ‘non-commercial’ bus operators are defined, requiring many  community transport bus operators subject to more onerous (and costly) licensing requirements for the first time. For many smaller-scale operators, often volunteer-run, these changes could take them off the road for good.

The Community Transport Association, which lobbies on behalf of community transport operators, has responded to the changed regulations in a letter to Government Ministers, calling for an urgent review. Its Chief Executive wrote, he said, on behalf of the

“…tens of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens who rely on community transport to have a better quality of life and now face some real risks to the care they receive following the Department for Transport’s statement.”

The Co-operative Party believes that the principles that drive community bus operators – run for the benefit of community and not-for-profit – are precisely the ethos that ought to lie behind the whole of Britain’s transport network.

Currently, just 5 large commercial companies control more than 65% of the bus market, using their dominant position to cut unprofitable routes and push up fares. Community transport shows that there’s a better way – based on serving people, not chasing profits.

It’s time to give them our support.