The Road Ahead: Community Transport Trends in 2024

May 16, 2024 | Community Transport

The latest community transport trends collectively aim to create a more inclusive, sustainable, and efficient transport network across the UK.

Community transport is critical in fostering inclusivity by bridging the transportation gap for many underserved by traditional public transit. From helping the elderly to supporting rural populations, it embodies a lifeline that connects people to the wider world.

Understanding the scope and influence of community transport has become increasingly significant. Defined as transportation services provided by the community for the community, these initiatives often involve a wide array of players, including non-profit organisations, volunteers, and governmental bodies.

The Community Transport Association and other key entities face ongoing challenges, yet they also have opportunities for adaptability and growth.

Navigating the complexities of modern mobility, this article delves into the statistical trends, government policies, and the transformative impact of community transport.

Focusing on the future, it explores how demographics, technological advances, and environmental considerations shape our view of community-driven transportation.

Overview of Community Transport

Community transport represents a kaleidoscope of locally-driven, not-for-profit initiatives dedicated to answering the travel needs of those who can’t readily access conventional public transport services.

It roots itself in the heart of local communities, often springing up from the initiative of self-help among the elderly.

These schemes encompass voluntary car sharing, community bus routes, transportation to schools and hospitals, and various on-demand services like dial-a-rise and wheels-to-work programs.

Each service is tailored to bridge the gaps in mobility, ensuring inclusive access to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities that empower social connectivity and participation in community life.

By embracing shared transport strategies across various vehicles, from minibuses to mopeds, community transport takes on a dual role – it curtails the carbon footprint. It is a cornerstone for maintaining life’s essentials, particularly in rural or isolated locations.

Key Players in Community Transport

Vital to those grappling with mobility and access, community transport services cater chiefly to:

  • the elderly,
  • community members with disabilities,
  • and residents of thinly spread communities.

It operates under a canopy structured by government funding and directives tailored for those who qualify, thus addressing but not wholly mirroring the wider transport needs.

Amidst gaps in traditional systems, community transport steps in, allowing practical travel and facilitating a conduit to social functions, health care, and civic interaction.

It is more than a journey; it’s the leverage for active participation in community and care structures for those who would otherwise be left behind.

Community Transport Association (CTA)

At the forefront, the Community Transport Association (CTA) champions the cause, heralding the impact of these services across the UK.

With a mission to counsel, connect and campaign (as seen during Community Transport Week), the CTA organizes events that tackle imminent transport issues while clarifying the sector’s trajectory and stressing the need for sustainability.

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Financial support from the Department for Transport bolsters the CTA’s objectives, fostering a climate where community transport can thrive even in the shadow of commercial networks.

Beyond mere advocacy, the CTA seeks to enlighten the public sphere, drawing support and resources to underwrite the sector’s fabric and grow its relevance within the wider transport ecosystem.

Current Challenges and Opportunities in Community Transport

Riddled with hurdles and prospects, community transport is nevertheless indispensable, buttressing those in need across varied demographic and geographic strands.

It serves dually as a means of travel and as a community anchor, delivering individualised, adaptable, and accessible services.

Yet, it often skirts the peripheral in policy discourse, a point of contention as sector advocates press for sustainability and sensitivity to the populace’s evolving travel encumbrances.

It connects destinations and people, fostering inclusivity while mitigating the environmental toll by promoting collective transport solutions.

Within its ranks, succession planning is spotlighted, ensuring the movement’s ethos and operations persist in the hands of a new cadre of impassioned community transport stewards.

8 Key Community Transport Trends in 2024

8 key community transport trends

As we move further into 2024, the landscape of community transport in the UK is undergoing significant transformations driven by technological advancements, policy shifts, and evolving societal needs.

Understanding these trends is essential for community groups, transport operators, and policymakers aiming to enhance mobility and accessibility across the nation.

Here are the key trends across the industry happening right now:

Technological Integration and Innovation

1. Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT):
Demand-responsive transport (DRT) is emerging as a pivotal trend in 2024. These services offer flexible routing and scheduling to cater to specific user demands rather than following fixed routes and timetables.

DRT solutions, facilitated by mobile apps and real-time data, are particularly beneficial in rural and underserved urban areas where traditional public transport may be inadequate.

This model enhances accessibility and convenience, ensuring that transport services meet the community’s dynamic needs​ (Urban Transport Group)​​ (Community Transport Association).

2. Autonomous Vehicles and AI-Driven Solutions:
Autonomous vehicles are at the forefront of transportation innovation. Equipped with advanced sensors and AI, these vehicles promise to enhance safety, reduce emissions, and address driver shortages.

AI-driven analytics and machine learning are increasingly used to optimise routes, predict demand, and improve operational efficiency.

These technologies are particularly impactful in urban areas where they can support efficient, low-emission public transport networks​ (Urban Transport Group)​​ (StartUs Insights). While technology is not mainstream, deep strides have been taken. It won’t impact community transport soon, but autonomous bus services might not be as far away in the UK as we think. The main issue will remain around the legal frameworks of such services.

3. Electric and Green Energy Vehicles:
The shift towards green energy is gaining momentum. Electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen-powered transport modes are being adopted to reduce the carbon footprint of community transport services.

This trend aligns with the UK’s broader environmental goals and promises cost savings in the long run due to lower fuel and maintenance costs​ (StartUs Insights).

Policy and Economic Influences

4. Devolution and Local Transport Powers:
Devolution deals have expanded, giving more regions control their local transport policies. As of early 2024, nineteen areas have secured some transport power, with more regions expected to follow.

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This decentralisation aims to tailor transport solutions to the specific needs of local communities, enhancing service delivery and integration with other regional initiatives​ (Urban Transport Group)​.

5. Economic Pressures and Funding Challenges:
Economic factors, including the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, impact transport funding and service availability.

Public transport networks face financial strain, with many services experiencing reduced frequency or complete discontinuation. This necessitates innovative funding solutions and strategic investments to maintain and expand essential transport services​ (Gov.uk)​.

Social and Demographic Trends

6. Post-Pandemic Travel Patterns:
The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently altered travel behaviours, with more people working from home and relying on online shopping.

This has led to a sustained decrease in commuting and retail-related travel. Community transport services must adapt by focusing on flexible, demand-responsive transport models that cater to these new patterns of mobility​ (Urban Transport Group).

7. Inclusivity and Accessibility:
Community transport initiatives increasingly focus on inclusivity, aiming to provide accessible transport options for all, including the elderly and those with disabilities.

Programs are being developed to ensure transport services are available and user-friendly for all community members. This involves physical accessibility improvements and the integration of supportive technologies to support committed volunteers such as volunteer drivers and volunteer coordinators​ (Community Transport Association)​.

Environmental and Sustainability Goals

8. ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) Integration:
Environmental sustainability is becoming a core component of community transport planning.

Transport operators are investing in projects that reduce emissions and promote sustainable practices. This includes the adoption of electric buses, investment in active travel infrastructure like cycling and walking paths, and implementing green logistics solutions​ (BDO UK)​​ (StartUs Insights)​.

Broader Statistics and Trends in Community Transport

greater community transport demand

As community transport services evolve and respond to changing societal needs, we are witnessing various emerging trends and pivotal statistical updates shaping the landscape of these crucial mobility solutions.

Community transport schemes exhibit many configurations, each adapted to fulfil specific local requirements.

We see VCS community minibuses, Section 19 and Section 22 minibuses that differ in capacity, routes, scheduling, and ownership—a reflection of the hands-on approach to meeting diverse needs.

These services have transcended their traditional roles to become heartwarming passenger social hubs.

In line with advancing technology and an increasingly data-driven society, regional and local authorities are adopting digital ticketing systems and applying innovative data management approaches to streamline and enhance the efficiency of community transport operations.

This is all to ensure they stay relevant in our rapidly changing world.

Growth in Community Transport Schemes

Community transport schemes are not typically designed to be accessible in the conventional sense but excel in functional adaptability.

Catering to specific user needs, these services flexibly and efficiently provide door-to-door transportation, enabling individuals who might otherwise be left behind to participate fully in society.

We’re observing growth in these schemes, with communities increasingly recognising their value for practical transportation needs and the social benefits they foster.

This dual role is crucial, with low-cost and flexible service offerings integral to their steady expansion.

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Increasing Demand for Community Transport; Services

The dependency on community transport services is rising, with a growing recognition of their critical role in the wider transport network.

These services cater to a larger proportion of the population, including the elderly, disabled individuals, and those residing outside urban centres, proving to be a lifeline that ties them to essential healthcare, education, and employment opportunities.

Community transport services are customized to the needs of a wide spectrum of passengers. They uphold the pillars of inclusivity and accessibility. They also represent an eco-friendlier option, diminishing our collective carbon footprint through shared transport initiatives.

Impact of COVID-19 on Community Transport

The bus sector, not immune to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen significant interventions like the COVID-19 Bus Service Support Grant and the Bus Recovery Grant to weather the upheavals of the time.

The financial adjustments and new schemes required to combat the pandemic’s blow to transportation were substantial.

In England, the sector received a notable £2.2 billion net support for the year ending March 2023.

The response measures, such as the fare cap schemes, were pivotal in sustaining community transport’s connectivity, notwithstanding the myriad challenges introduced by the global health crisis.

The pandemic also saw a sharp decline in community transport use, though many were set up as vital carriers for passengers to get their COVID-19 vaccines and subsequent booster jabs.  Without such a service, many vulnerable adults would have been unable to get the required jabs.

The pandemic highlighted the resilience and solidarity within communities. Many local volunteer groups and community transport organisations collaborated to ensure the most vulnerable had access to essential services and support.​

Technological Advancements in Community Transport

The harnessing of technology in community transport has been a game-changer.

Services now use various vehicles, leveraging tech-driven options such as voluntary car schemes and community buses, which have rendered the sector more responsive to user demands. These advancements cater to diverse community needs and support social inclusion initiatives.

Implementing advanced tech solutions is paving the way for more efficient operations, promising a brighter, more inclusive future for community transport, where access to healthcare and opportunities for socialising and employment are increasingly facilitated through innovative technologies.

Adopting software like Road XS has enabled schemes to bid on various transport opportunities that the technology underpins.

Shift towards Eco-Friendly Community Transport Solutions

As awareness of environmental impacts grows, there is a deliberate shift towards promoting eco-friendly community transport solutions in the UK.

From minimising individual car use through group hire services to advocating for policy shifts that improve local transport infrastructure, the Community Transport Association is at the forefront of this sustainable crusade.

Community transport services champion this eco-friendly shift, and their role in supporting vibrant, sustainable rural and isolated communities cannot be overstressed.

The continued advancement of sustainable transport solutions promises to mitigate the climate crisis and enhance the livability and connectivity of the communities they serve.

Government Policies and Initiatives

uk government policies

Navigating through the dense urban landscapes and vast rural expanses, the UK continues to seek improved transport solutions that are both efficient and accessible to all.

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With national forums serving as catalysts for change, members can spotlight the necessity for a future-ready transportation framework that seamlessly weaves into the community fabric.

Reports, such as those advocating Policy Futures for Urban Transport, underline the pressing need for a refreshed funding and powers agreement.

These are critical for propelling UK cities towards healthier, fairer, and richer futures that hinge on robust public transport, highways, and the fostering of active travel.

By transcending mere transportation, community transport schemes emulate a social fabric, providing a synergistic blend of mobility, community, and social services. This demonstrates a profound understanding that movement and connectivity are about more than just reaching a destination; they’re about enriching lives.

The Community Transport Association is not merely a bystander but an active campaigner for change.

Interactive presentations and workshops endorse policies and priorities, leveraging the power of a Manifesto during the UK General Election to influence candidates and leaders. This ensures that the pulse of community transport echoes through the halls of governance.

Role of Government in Supporting Community Transport

The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) stands at the helm, steering the nation’s extensive transport network and channelling investments into infrastructure that benefits the many modes of transport within the community transport sector.

The DfT’s hand extends beyond guidance, delving deep into the coffers to support local authorities with funding critical to the growth and maintenance of community transport services.

Financial lifelines have been instrumental, such as the £25 million Community Transport Minibus Fund and annual support of £200,000 to the Community Transport Authority.

Schemes like the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) put the wheels in motion for many community-operated transport services.

Yet community transport’s vast canvas sprawls across different government departments, including the DfT, the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), reflecting its multidimensional impact—from health services access to community cohesion.

It’s a testament to the government’s recognition of community transport’s versatile role beyond mere mobility.

National Bus Strategy and its Implications for Community Transport

The National Bus Strategy is a clarion call to reshape our UK bus transport approach.

The National Travel Survey (NTS) provides a window into bus usage trends—on average, people make 38 bus trips and travel 175 miles yearly by bus.

Although seemingly a modest contributor, accounting for only 4.4% of total trips, buses are crucial for education commutes, shopping, and leisure. Yet, the narrative diverges, with 50% of the populace only sporadically boarding buses.

Here is where community transport shines—plugging the gaps left by conventional services and offering a lifeline to those often marginalized: the elderly, the isolated, and those with disabilities.

These volunteer-driven initiatives ensure no one is left at the curb, fostering a sense of community and changing the complexion of local bus travel.

Funding and Grants for Community Transport Schemes

Threads of financial support for community transport are woven intricately into the fabric of various government initiatives.

The DfT, known for its indirect yet substantial backing, has initiated funding watersheds such as the monumental £25 million Community Transport Minibus Fund.

Ongoing support also materialises through the £200,000 annual provision to the Community Transport Association.

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Furthermore, the BSOG embodies another avenue through which the DfT fortifies the community transport framework, ensuring these services continue to pulse through the veins of communities.

Although the mantle of funding primarily drapes over local authorities, the unwavering support from the central government underscores its centrality in the survival and thriving of community transport services, evident in initiatives like the Buckinghamshire Community Transport Forum, which aids schemes in tapping into vital grants.

Government Support for Accessibility and Inclusion in Community Transport

The UK’s community transport services are the unsung heroes that advocate for inclusivity, ensuring that the elderly, disabled, and residents in far-flung areas remain woven into the societal tapestry.

These services are as varied as the needs they meet: voluntary car schemes, school transport, and dial-a-ride initiatives are just a few examples.

They represent the government’s commitment to maintaining a transport network that is available and affordable to all.

Government support is not merely a financial gesture; it is the bedrock upon which social capital is built.

Ensuring accessibility and inclusion in community transport services resonates deeply within the aims of numerous government departments, as they recognise the profound impact such services have on mitigating isolation, fostering community ties, and bolstering the overall quality of life—particularly poignant in rural settings where isolation can be acutely felt.

By valuing diversity and striving for inclusivity, the government’s role morphs from a mere supporter to a vital partner in the journey towards an equitable and accessible transport future.

Benefits and Impacts of Community Transport

benefits and the impact of community transport

Community transport plays a crucial role in knitting together the fabric of society by providing essential and accessible travel options to those who need it most.

The impacts of these services are multifaceted, ranging from social and economic to environmental benefits.

For individuals with limited mobility, children, the elderly, the disabled, and residents of rural or isolated areas, community transport is a lifeline that offers not just a means to reach a destination but a connection to the wider world.

This form of transport is especially critical in areas underserved by conventional public transport networks, enabling access to healthcare, education, employment, and community activities.

By focusing on inclusion, community transport helps bridge gaps, ensuring that transportation is not a barrier to participation in the socio-economic life of a community, even in rural communities.

It provides a shared, wide-range communal approach to travel that has a tangible positive effect on the environment by reducing the reliance on personal vehicles and contributing to decreased carbon emissions through non-conventional bus services, providing much-needed flexible transport.

Community transport is not just a way to get around—it is a vital service with wide-ranging impacts that support the livelihood and wellness of individuals and the planet.

Innovative Strategies in Community Transport

In 2024, Community Transport organisations will increasingly adopt innovative technologies to streamline their services and improve connectivity with the wider public transport network.

Community transport providers can use advancements such as real-time tracking, driver and passenger portals, and smart ticketing to offer passengers more efficient and user-friendly experiences.

These technological strides increase service reliability and facilitate easier coordination with larger transport networks, ensuring a seamless journey for passengers.

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