How to set up a community bus service
A Community Bus is a minibus used to run local bus services, which are open to anyone to use. In effect, it means running your own not-profit-making village-based bus company. There are only three such schemes in Hampshire and their legal basis is different from other types of minibus scheme.
Running under a Section 22 Community Bus Permit you can run local bus services to timetables registered with a government agency, the Traffic Commissioner (see below). You can charge fares and accept concessionary passes, just like any other bus service, and your passengers will not need to book in advance to use the service. For a comparison between running a minibus under a Section 22 Community Bus Permit and the more usual Section 19 Standard Permit (which is primarily for pre-booked group travel) refer to the ‘Permits for Minibus Operation: Comparison’ fact sheet (see below).
A Community Bus operator is also allowed to run one-off, pre-booked excursions, for example the seaside, or cinema. If you own the minibus, you are also allowed to hire it to other local groups. Both these additional activities can generate extra income for your scheme.
Case study: Meon Valley
This scheme started in 1986, involving a number of parishes, including West Meon, Warnford, Droxford and Soberton . The villages wanted to provide a weekly service to Fareham. Initially a minibus was hired from a local charity and a service to Fareham was run once a week. As patronage grew the scheme ran twice-weekly and raised the funds to buy its own bus. Operations have progressively increased to four days a week, running services to Fareham, Waterlooville and Winchester. These services are unsubsidised and not only cover their operating costs, but generate a good-sized contribution to the cost of the next replacement minibus. This is achieved by claiming back some of the tax paid on fuel (Bus Service Operator’s Grant), participating in the concessionary fares scheme and receiving reimbursement from the County Council for providing free travel. However, it still needs grants from the County and City Councils when its minibus is due for replacement.
Case study: Whitchurch
This Community Bus has been running since the end of 2000 with the route being revised in 2004, and is operated by Basingstoke Community Transport on behalf of Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council, using volunteer drivers. The service runs twice a week picking up residents from the rural settlements around Whitchurch and bringing them into the town centre. In some areas it is almost a door to door service. There are eight journeys a day from the outer villages allowing for alternative return times. Anyone can travel, whether paying a fare or using a concessionary pass. It started under section 19 permit (where members had to book before they travelled) but now is operated under a section 22 permit, so that anyone can use the services. The service does, however, receive a small on-going subsidy from the Borough Council, which enables fare levels to be kept relatively low.
'With the Whitchurch Community Bus we saw the opportunity to emphasise the 'community' aspect by providing local transport for local people to local facilities.'
'The villages to the town centre may not be far in miles, but without the Community Bus, for some residents, it's a long way away. There are those elderly residents who are close to main transport links but can't reach them. The Community Bus provides the door to door solution to enable more freedom for those otherwise not able to easily get out.'
Ian Robertson, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council
Case study: Broughton and Mottisfont
This Community Bus was set up in 1980. The scheme owns a minibus, which is replaced every seven years or so. With bus services on four days a week and hires to local groups the scheme covers its day to day operating costs so the bus services operate without subsidy. The scheme is also able to build up some funds towards a replacement bus in due course. The balance of the money has come from grants from Hampshire County Council and Test Valley Borough Council, when the bus is due for replacement.
When might a community bus be suitable?
When you want your service to be available to everyone, without the need to pre-book their seat – and you want to be able to offer free travel to people with concessionary passes. If you only want to provide transport for people who live in your community, you could consider operating under a Section 19 Standard Permit instead. But if you live in an area popular with visitors, tourists or walkers, they won’t be able to use your service if it is run under Section 19. That could mean that you lose out on useful fare revenue.
Running a Section 19 service is simpler but if you want to offer free travel for people with concessionary passes, you can only guarantee this if you run local bus services under a Section 22 Community Bus Permit. Under Section 19, it is unlikely that your services will be included in the concessionary travel scheme, as they will not be local bus services.
As with any minibus scheme, make sure you will have enough potential passengers to make it worthwhile to use a minibus. If you are replacing a bus service withdrawn by a commercial bus company, find out how many people passengers used it from your community. If you are unsure, you could hire a minibus and run a trial service under Section 19, as a first step towards a proper local bus service under Section 22.
- A good-sized pool of volunteers. Although you can use paid drivers, volunteer minibus drivers will make your services much more cost-effective. Make sure that you have enough potential drivers before committing to go ahead with a scheme. Also check driver licensing requirements.
- A minibus. Unless your organisation already owns a minibus, hiring a minibus from another community organisation is a good way to trial a service without huge up-front costs. Depending on the specific group of people for whom you are providing transport, you may require a minibus with a wheelchair ramp or lift. Further information can be found in the ’To hire or to buy a minibus’ section of this Self-help Kit (see below).
- People to organise the scheme. A good treasurer will be a great asset as well as people to decide the routes, organise any excursions and organise a drivers’ rota. A MIDAS driver trainer would be useful too, as driving a minibus is different from driving a car.
- Minibus hire (Further information can be found in ‘To hire or to buy a minibus’ - see below)
- Fuel, if it is not included in the hire charges
- Registration costs for the services you will run
- Promotion and administration.
The main sources of revenue will be:
- Reimbursement of free travel through the concessionary fares scheme - at roughly 85% of the fares that would have been paid
- Reclaiming tax on fuel through the Bus Service Operator’s Grant on some of your mileage.
If you eventually decide to purchase your own minibus, in addition to the cost of buying a minibus and factoring in future replacement costs, you will need to consider the costs of MOT, insurance, road tax and regular safety inspections, as well as servicing and ongoing repairs.
What to do next
- Identify potential demand (number of people, journey(s) needed)
- Draw up and agree timetable and route
- Identify a vehicle
- Calculate likely costs, budget and funding source(s)
- Recruit drivers (paid or volunteers)
- Trial the service
- Review route, timetable, patronage etc
- Register service with Traffic Commissioner.
Where to get further advice
Documents and web links
Community Transport Factsheets produced by Hampshire County Council:
Community Transport Factsheet 10: Permits for Minibus Operation: Comparison.
Community Transport Factsheet 4 119kb: Section 19 Standard Permits for Minibus Operation
The Department for Transport provides information on the role of the Traffic Commissioner and how to contact the local office.
The MiDAS website provides further information on Hampshire’s minibus drivers training scheme.
Other essential reading: