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June 29, 2011

Community transport can plug the gaps

When you live in a remote rural community the importance of having access to a reliable means of transport cannot be overstated. Argyll and Bute Council’s recent decision to withdraw its support from a transport initiative on the Ross of Mull has created a real crisis for residents – particularly for those without access to a car.  John MacDonald of Community Transport Assoc believes this scenario is being played out all over country and sees a real opportunity for community transport to fill the gap

One way of tackling the shrinkage which is currently taking place in local bus service provision in many parts of Scotland is to look at the potential for local communities to be more involved in running services.  There are numerous community run transport schemes, operating on a non-profit basis, where all funds are invested into developing local services for local people.  Though most have been set up to provide a service for people who can’t use public transport, such as elderly and disabled people, the legislation which governs them offers opportunities to provide services to the wider public too.

Changes to transport legislation in 2009 now mean that community transport services have the potential for an even bigger role in local transport, particularly the changes to Section 22 permits. In areas where services have been withdrawn and where it is difficult to run a commercially viable route, community groups can fill the gaps in local networks. The low overhead costs of community transport services can often make them more financially viable than a commercial service. However, few local authorities are looking seriously at how community groups might fill the ever widening gaps in local transport provision and the Scottish Government could do more to nurture bottom up responses to community need .  

Something which Government could do to help would be to extend the free bus concessionary fare scheme to include services run by community and voluntary groups. Many of those people who most need the concession cannot use it; instead they have to pay for the community transport services which do meet their mobility needs, which is not in keeping with the scheme’s social inclusion objectives.