With the recent heavy snow across the UK, many of us were temporarily confined to our homes, unable to do things we normally take for granted, such as getting to work, the shops or medical appointments. This experience provides just a small insight into what life could be like every day for people who rely on community transport to get out and about if those services were no longer available.
This could soon become a reality in Wales if planned changes to how these services are regulated throughout Great Britain come into effect. The UK Government is planning to change how EU rules for regulating passenger transport services apply here and wants to start treating charities that run transport as if they are just like bus companies.
Every day of the year, community transport providers are the lifeline for people in communities across Wales who would otherwise be stuck in their homes. They ensure that vulnerable people can access important services and facilities as well as providing social interaction for people who might otherwise be alone.
These often small charities, for example, provide school transport for those with Additional Learning Needs, they ensure older people can access health and social care services and they mean that local groups such as carers’ organisations can enjoy some respite through regular group trips.
Last year, community transport providers also proudly supported disability sport by ensuring teams could move between venues and accommodation to compete for Wales in international para-athletic championships.
The latest figures in Wales show that community transport supports 140,000 individuals and 3,500 groups to get to where they need to go through the provision of accessible and inclusive transport. These services are supported by 2,000 volunteers and 600 paid employees. The contribution made by volunteers to the sector is estimated to be worth £1.5million.
In terms of the people who use community transport, 94% of organisations say their service users include older people, 84% say they transport people with disabilities, 60% say they operate in rural areas, and 40% provide transport for children and young people.
A recent report published by the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee recognises the critical role the sector plays in tackling social isolation and loneliness, providing a vital lifeline for people who would otherwise be unable to travel. This is particularly, but not exclusively, the case for those living in rural areas.
During my time working with those who spend every day ensuring these services can be delivered, I have found that community transport offers more than just transport, it offers transport that cares with staff and volunteers going the extra mile, every journey, to make sure people can live independently and enjoy a good quality of life.
The Community Transport Association represents over 1,600 members across the UK, and nearly 100 of these are delivering services in communities across Wales.
Our community transport permit system and the vital services it enables were created to meet the needs that bus companies can’t or won’t meet, so there are big questions and a lot of concerns about this going ahead and whether anyone is actually going to benefit from these changes, when there are so many potential losers. Charities and community groups running transport to support their main charitable purpose could also be affected.
We’re therefore calling on our friends across the voluntary sector to show their support for all of these small charities that provide a lifeline for so many people in so many communities. If you want to ensure that these services can continue, please find out what you can do by emailing: [email protected].