The future of a Birmingham community minibus charity, which gives thousands of rides a year to vulnerable and elderly passengers, hangs in the balance as it awaits to find out if strict EU regulations are going to be enforced.
The 15 buses operated by Northfield based charity Shencare make 30,000 passenger journeys each year - with more than two-thirds of them carrying elderly and disabled people to day centres, hospital appointments, shopping trips and other events.
The remainder of its work includes special school transport contracts which help cover the charity’s costs. Most of its buses are wheelchair friendly.
But along with hundreds of community transport charities across the country is has been told by the Department for Transport that regulations could be tightened following a new interpretation of long-standing EU rules.
It would mean the bus charities would be registered and regulated like commercial bus companies and if fully implemented could cost the community transport sector £400 million. An estimated 40 per cent of providers could be forced out of business.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee Lilian Greenwood MP has described the measure as using a ‘sledgehammer to crack a walnut’.
Shencare chairman and former city councillor Peter Douglas Osborn said: “Much of the service that Shencare and many other community transport suppliers involve taking mobility challenged
people who else would be housebound out to day care centres, visits, hospitals, and shopping trips.”
He said the issue stems from a Department for Transport letter sent to all community transport operations in the country last July offering a new interpretation of European regulation 1071/2009 covering competition in bus services.
“It might have seemed relatively innocuous, but the implications were horrendous. We have volunteer drivers at Shencare and they were seen under this letter as potentially causing unfair competition for regular bus companies,” he said.
“It seems perverse that in Whitehall they are applying a European diktat after all these years just as we are negotiating to leave the EU,” he added.
The issue could impact services like Shencare which uses its commercial home to school contracts with local councils to subsidise the majority of its not-for-profit work with charities such as Age UK, Focus and others.
Shencare chief executive Chris Busst said that they have won the backing from a range of MPs across all parties. “Hopefully there will be some common sense and thee Department for Transport will leave things as they are,” he added.