Community Transport consultation information

Community Transport in Cheshire West and Chester is transport for residents who are unable to access conventional public transport, including residents attending day centres.

We currently commission (or buy-in) our Community Transport services and our current contracts are due to end in March 2021. This consultation provides you with an opportunity to share your views and help shape the future of Community Transport.  Your feedback on the proposals being considered will help us to ensure Community Transport meets people’s needs for the future.

This information sets out the Council’s proposals for Community Transport services from April 2021. Following consideration of the feedback from the consultation, any proposals that are agreed by the Council’s Cabinet will replace the existing Community Transport services.

This information also explains:

  • What Community Transport is
  • What Community Transport is not
  • What the current service looks like
  • Why there is a need to refresh the current service
  • What we are proposing for the new service 
  • How you can help by telling us what you think
  • What will happen next

For further information on Community Transport​, visit the Council's website​.

Our Community Transport services operate alongside commercial bus services, and some bus services which the council has to help sustain through its own funding. Bus services across the country have been under a lot of pressure for many years, and many have stopped operating. Although this consultation is about Community Transport, these services cannot be seen as separate from other bus services which the council wants to sustain. The Council is therefore conducting a wider review of our work to protect and extend bus services, including for school pupils and in rural areas. The views collected through this consultation will help ensure this wider review fully reflects your views.​​​

What Community Transport is

In all parts of the UK, on every day of the year, thousands of Community Transport staff and volunteers are helping people to stay independent, participate in their communities and access vital public services and employment. Community Transport provides flexible and accessible community-led solutions to unmet local transport needs. This is often the only means of transport for many vulnerable and isolated people, often older people or people with disabilities.

Community Transport in Cheshire West and Chester is transport for residents who are unable to access conventional public transport, including residents attending day centres. Typical services include, community bus services, dial a ride and group hire services, voluntary car schemes and school or college transport, which transports residents, from home to a specified destination.

Most Community Transport bookings are demand responsive, which means someone requests a journey with the Community Transport organisation who then contacts them with details of when they are able to pick them up. Community Transport generally takes people from door to door.

Community Transport really plays its part in ensuring our residents have suitable services when residents may not be able to get to a bus stop. In some exceptional cases, where a commercial public bus route is not viable (typically in rural areas), then Community Transport may offer opportunities to serve the community by offering transport to frequently requested destinations.

Who is eligible for Community Transport

People may be eligible to use Community Transport if:

  • Their mobility prevents them from using accessible public transport (for example, they cannot get to their nearest bus stop).
  • Case Study – Example of eligibility due to mobility​​ Phillip has recently lost his wife and has been struggling to adjust to the changes in his life.  His   mobility means that he is unable to get to his nearest bus stop.  After reading a flier about Community Transport in his local GP surgery, he has managed to use their services initially around Christmas time.  Philip has explained that he was anxious about being alone for the first time at this time of year so getting out and about amongst other people, and being able to shop and to stop and have a coffee has made a real difference to his day.
  • They live in one of a small numbers of areas of the borough where there is a lack of public transport options (generally in more rural areas). In these cases, Community Transport may operate some select routes.
  • Case Study – Eligibility due to absence of public transport
    Steven lives in Great Barrow, does not have access to a car and is unable to access a local town using public transport. The Flexible Shuttle Service operating a few days each week from his village allows him to get into Chester City Centre to access shopping and leisure facilities.
  • They are referred to a Community Transport service to travel to daycare. For passengers travelling to daycare, a referral will be made through a Social Worker, where eligible.
​​​

What Community Transport is not

Community Transport is not a commercial public bus service.

A commercial public bus service is a public bus route that is in place to transport groups of people on a regular route.

Whereas Community Transport is in place to ensure residents who are unable to use commercial public bus services have suitable transport services, for example, where their mobility prevents them from getting to their nearest bus stop.

In some select cases where a commercial public bus route is not viable, typically in rural areas, Community Transport may offer fixed routes to a community, by offering scheduled transport to frequently requested locations.

Community Transport operators take requests for travel from a number of people and schedule those requests in the most efficient manner, so as to meet the needs of as many people within our communities as possible.

For further details on public transport in west cheshire, visit the Council's website​.

Community Transport is not a taxi service. A taxi service is individual and time specific transport provided by local taxi companies which operate across the borough.

Community Transport is not an unlimited resource. In order to serve as many areas as possible, services are not automatically able to operate in every area every day.

What the current service looks like

In Cheshire West and Chester, our Community Transport service provides over 100,000 trips per year for residents to remain independent and to be able to access essential services such as day care services, leisure centres, libraries, shopping centres, community groups and medical appointments. Our service enables our most vulnerable residents to stay connected with their local community and independent for longer.

The current Community Transport services in Cheshire West and Chester are mainly provided by two contractors. They operate 17 accessible minibuses from Monday to Friday with a smaller amount of evening and weekend work. These services are currently made up of:

  • ​Half the hours of operation providing essential services to day centres.
  • A third of the hours of operation providing access to community services such as leisure activities, community groups, medical appointments and shopping centres. 
  • Around 10 per cent of the hours of operation providing transport during evenings and weekends
  • Around 5 per cent of the service providing home to school transport for school children. 

The service offers ‘group trips’ at certain times of the year.

Case Study – Community Transport ‘group trips’

Jean has been a carer for her husband for ten years during which time they have had few holidays. As her husband is a user of Community Transport, she and her husband have been able to go on day trips to Llandudno and Ness Gardens during the summer and Bury Market at Christmas through the Community Transport ‘Summer and Christmas Trips Scheme’. Jean has shared with the Community Transport provider, what a difference this makes to her as a carer. She explained that to have a day out without having to worry about any organisation, and with the support of the Community Transport driver, has made a very positive difference to her life, giving her something to really look forward to.

The service also operates volunteer driver schemes across the borough and there are some services provided by smaller operators in rural areas.

Case Study – Volunteer driver scheme

Sue lives in a rural area of the borough and has mobility difficulties. She likes to visit her sister in a neighbouring village about once a fortnight. A volunteer driver is able to take her and she enjoys talking to the volunteer driver during the journey. The volunteer driver understands Sue’s mobility difficulties and gives her confidence that she can get out and about and feel safe.

As transport is scheduled to where it is needed the most, regular community transport routes have also emerged around larger areas of population, for example Winsford, Tarporley, Frodsham, Northwich, Chester and Ellesmere Port areas. There are also a significant number of regular routes serving nearest social care day centres across the borough.

Case Study – Adult Social Care Transport

Nicola has been a carer for her autistic son who has recently moved from Education to attending a Vivo day centre. Nicola has been nervous about the change but has commented that the Community Transport staff have been really reassuring in demonstrating that they understand her son’s needs. The transition to the new arrangements has gone exceptionally well. ​

Why there is a need to renew the current service

We commission (or buy-in) Community Transport services and our current contracts are due to end in March 2021. This means that the Council needs to commission (or buy in) a new service to commence 1 April 2021.

Therefore there is an opportunity to review what works well with the existing services, and what changes may enhance services for residents. We also need to ensure we are able to meet the further needs of more residents over the term of the new service contract. The proposed term of the new service is 5 to 7 years, to reflect the economic life of vehicles being used.

An aspect of this consultation is a proposed review of fares. As such the Council is seeking residents’ views on what they consider to be a reasonable fare for a Community Transport service. Residents thoughts and opinions on this proposal will be crucial to our decision making process.

We are committed to providing the best services we can for our residents, particularly to the most vulnerable in our communities. We want to ensure that our adults and older people stay connected and are able to live longer, healthier, happier and vibrant lives.

Case Study – How Community Transport promotes independence
David lives alone and is keen to retain his independence. He has recently stopped driving and has been struggling to get his regular shopping. A family member suggested Community Transport to him and David has found that this has helped him get out once a week to access the shops and other services he needs.

We also need to consider the environmental impact of the service and ensure that it supports our ambitions to become a carbon neutral borough by 2045.

In order to meet the needs of as many residents as we possibly can, within the budget available, we need to consider a variety of options. These proposals are outlined in the next section.

The Community Transport consultation will form part of a wider review of Public Transport provision across the borough.

For passengers where a Care Act assessment identifies that the Council needs to ‘provide’ transport in order to access a care service, only proposals one to three apply. In these cases, charges for 'provided' transport will be determined through the Council’s Charging Policy and will be subject to a financial assessment.

What we are proposing for the new service

Proposal one: Increasing the number of residents using the service

The new Community Transport service is expected to operate for a term of between 5 to 7 years, to reflect the economic life of vehicles being used. However it is important that the contractual arrangements allow flexibility, so that the new service can alter or grow during this time to meet changing needs, whilst adhering to public procurement regulations.

The existing Community Transport service operates a borough wide service based on demand. Community Transport operates mainly to and from adult day care centres, community centres, supermarkets and medical centres (for those not eligible for the NHS Patient Transport Service, visit the NHS West Midlands Ambulance Serivce website​).

It is proposed that there will be an option to add future requirements to contracts, for example, transport routes to college for students with Special Educational Needs (SEN), rural transport routes and routes to medical centres.

This proposal will provide the potential to add extra routes and vehicles meaning that more people are able to access the service in the future. It may increase the overall vehicles provided but may reduce the availability of Community Transport at school times, for example.

In addition, it is proposed to offer communities interested in starting up their own volunteer Community Transport driver schemes support to set up. This would include advice from Officers on how to set up a scheme, and how to operate taking into account safety and legal regulations. In some cases, where a business case exists, the Council may also be able to provide some funding to help towards set up costs.

Proposal two: Reviewing routes in operation

Routes are in place across the borough for Community Transport with some areas currently receiving more services than others. Therefore there is a need to review routes to ensure fairness and equity of Community Transport services across the Borough. This proposal may mean reducing services in some areas (particularly where the same routes exist on multiple days of the week), in order to increase services in other areas where there is limited Community Transport available.

The nature of Community Transport is that transport routes are arranged around requests for transport received from residents (‘demand responsive’ transport). We propose to continue offering demand responsive routes. However we also propose to look at whether some regular routes would be more beneficial in some cases. Finally we propose to publish those regular routes, to support people planning their journeys.

Proposal three: Contributing to tackling the climate emergency

It is the Council’s ambition to become a carbon neutral borough by 2045. Therefore we propose to look at the options for using more environmentally friendly vehicles that are able to meet the needs of the Community Transport services provided (for example range of distance travelled).

The Council will also look at any opportunities to bid for Climate Emergency funding to support this proposal.

When reviewing routes, as proposed in Proposal two, we will also make our routes as efficient as possible, and reduce any unnecessary mileage.

Proposal four: Reviewing fares charged for the service

For passengers where a Care Act assessment identifies that the Council needs to ‘provide’ transport in order to access a care service, only proposals 1 – 3 apply. In these cases, charges for ‘provided’ transport will be determined through the Council’s Charging Policy and will be subject to a financial assessment.

Passenger fares for Community Transport contribute around 15% to the overall cost of providing the service. The remaining cost is met by Council subsidy of over £1 million per year.

The Council has not reviewed the current £5 fare per trip for community transport since 2015. The Council has a budget of £1 million per year to operate the service. If fares remain at the current level, the existing budget would fund fewer vehicles than are operated at present.

We would like to understand your views on what you consider to be a reasonable fare for Community Transport services. We would also like your views on annual fare reviews which may impact on changes to fares during the life of the contract.

The existing service also sees a large number of trips cancelled on the day, which results in empty seats where somebody else could have used it. The Council needs to ensure Community Transport is as efficient as possible when planning routes and serving different locations within our borough.

Therefore it is proposed to charge a fare for all trips booked, with the exception of those for which a minimum of 48 hours notice of cancellation is received. This proposal will give providers the opportunity to ensure that buses are well used and to reallocate resources where there are cancellations.

The Council also proposes to review the methods of booking, cancellations and payments, enhancing our digital offer by allowing booking and payments online, whilst retaining the ability to book over the phone and pay on bus.​

How you can help - by telling us what you think

The consultation is open from 28 February 2020 until 22 May 2020.

We would like to hear your views on these proposals. We are keen to hear the views of all stakeholders and particularly those who currently use the service, or are likely to use the service in the future.
There are a number of ways you can take part in the consultation:

​​

What happens next

At the end of the consultation, all feedback will be analysed and the outcome of the consultation will be shared with the Council’s Cabinet, who will decide on the plan for Community Transport from April 2021.

A summary of the consultation findings and decisions taken will be published on the Council’s website. The contracts for the new service will then be procured (bought in) and set up for April 2021. The Council will write to all service users to keep you informed.

00

Thanks! Your message has been sent.