Shropshire's Dial-a-Ride services ‘need saving now’
Shropshire Council will need to act quickly to secure the future of vital Dial-a-Ride bus services relied on by the elderly and vulnerable, according to a councillor.
Andy Boddington, Shropshire Councillor for Ludlow North, said he will be arguing the case for the service at the authority's communities overview committee on Monday, along with Councillor Viv Parry.
The news comes after it was revealed that new government rules could force volunteer drivers for services like Dial-a-Ride to gain a commercial licence, a process that would cost thousands of pounds and potentially force the services to be scaled back, or fold.
The Department for Transport is carrying out a consultation to determine whether new licences should be brought in for drivers of community buses.
Councillor Boddington said: "Community transport services in Shropshire make more than 100,000 passenger journeys a year, with passenger spending averaging £30 a trip.
"The community transport benefits in reducing social isolation and promoting wellbeing. But a threat is looming."
- Licence changes could force Dial-a-Ride services to fold
- Why Friendly and Dial-a-Ride services are so important
Councillor Boddington said that there are nine services listed by Shropshire Council. Eight of these are members of the Shropshire Community Transport Consortium.
He added that the eight community transport services have 3,600 members and provide 131,000 passenger journeys a year.
Nine out of ten of the trips use minibuses. The others are car journeys, often to take people to GPs or hospitals.
Councillor Boddington said: "The benefits of community transport are clear. The problem is how to keep them going – and expand them if needed – at a time of heavy cuts to local authority budgets.
"Shropshire Council needs to form a view on this very quickly as the Department for Transport consultation closes on May 4.
"That’s why the communities overview committee will be discussing it on Monday. Viv Parry and I will be there to argue the case for ensuring that the excellent community transport services in Shropshire are not damaged by this move.
"The officer recommendation is to set up a task and finishing group to look at this issue. This working group will need to act very quickly to help secure the future of Shropshire’s community transport services."
Due to the rurality of the county, community bus services offer a much-needed link to the outside world for people cannot use public transport and would otherwise become isolated.
Since the DfT launched the consultation, community bus operators have been in talks with Shropshire Council to find a way they can still offer their services.
Shropshire Council is now considering setting up a scrutiny committee to establish a way forward.
Under the changes, community bus drivers would have to undergo training, costing thousands of pounds, which would lead to them being awarded a commercial licence.