It’s all about coming together
Despite what some might say, there is such a thing as society. Our communities are host to a rich tapestry of groups – both formal and informal – that come together to make the places we live in come alive.
Groups bring people together to go to day centres; to go on protest marches; to go to church, or mosque, or temple; to go to scouts or brownies, to go to the seaside or to go to Cribbs Causeway; to play in football teams or basketball teams, pub darts teams or wheelchair rugby teams; to go caving or raving, to go to lunch clubs or cookery classes; to play chess or to see Chess the musical; to hear the clatter of dominoes or the harmony of choirs. If you can think of it, there is a group for it.
For some group members, it is a lifeline – receiving the support they need or tackling loneliness and isolation. For others, it’s a way of taking part and living a full life. From the profoundly consequential to having a laugh with friends – all of these groups are the magic that binds our community together. And it all needs transport to make it work.
It’s no good if you can’t get there
Transport costs. Private hire is expensive – particularly if you need accessible vehicles. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember that in the 1970s and 1980s, groups would be out there fundraising for a minibus so they could take their members to their activities. If they succeeded, the bus would be sat there for the most of the time, gently rusting, costing the group a fortune. This was obviously crazy and it could not continue.
The idea was simple. What if the transport could be held in common for the community, with each group only paying for what it used? The idea of Group Transport was born. Bristol Community Transport started out with just this idea in 1985, holding the transport assets for Bristol's community. There are now 1500 or so community transport operators up and down the country, most of whom provide exactly this service to their own communities.
Enshrined in law
Minibuses are pretty big vehicles that can carry a lot of people. This means that they are tightly regulated – who can drive them, what licence is required, maintenance and operating rules and so on. In the mid-1980s, the government wanted to tighten the regulations for minibuses in general, but recognised how much communities depended on them.
The 1985 Transport Act wanted to protect community minibuses, creating a special class of licence – Section 19 permits*. These have a much lower level of paperwork, driver requirements etc than for minibuses operated for a profit – making the whole thing easier and cheaper to run. But you still need a permit, there is still regulation and the people best placed to hold these permits were the community transport organisations who knew how they worked. This is why Group Transport is a membership scheme - community groups are joining us to access our Section 19 permit - and our transport expertise.
Section 19 of the Transport Act also defined of how community minibus services should work with some simple rules. First, it can’t be for hire or reward – that would be a commercial service. There could be fees to cover costs, but the whole ethos and economics of Group Transport has to be about serving the community, not making cash.
Second, it is only for civil society – community groups, churches, schools, NGOs and so on – because the whole idea was to protect the transport for these groups. The definition is really broad, but has some clear restrictions – commercial companies can’t join, and neither can individuals.
This is where the rules about who can join Group Transport come from – services for the community, enshrined in law. So it’s not just community transport organisations being weird…
*Building on the 1977 Minibus Act, which first acted to clear up minibus use by civil society.