To begin with, it carries local community groups to a variety of activities en masse. Individuals needing to make essential journeys such as medical appointments often use the Active Travel service, which encompasses 40 volunteer car drivers and a further 30 driving the smaller minibuses in the BECT fleet.
But BECT also runs vehicles using a Community Bus Permit (Section 22) of which its highest-profile service is the Dambuster 222 bus route which carries anyone – especially tourists – along the Derwent Valley and along the shores of Ladybower and Derwent Reservoirs, normally closed to traffic.
Nick Oddy, BECT’s Transport Manager, has watched services grow and change in the 24 years he has worked there, and says change is a necessary part of survival: “The way in which austerity measures are taking hold, that’s the way it’s going to be,” he says.
Funding streams for BECT include fares from its Active Travel service, charged by the mile; from the Dambusters fares; from other hire and, of course, from traditional grant aid sources: “This is all against a backdrop of reductions in subsidy, and the fact that the cost of delivery will rise.”
“The impact on our users is our chief concern. We’re working against a backdrop of reductions in subsidy which are making services unviable and options for funding shrinking.”
Nick says CTs everywhere are faced with making more imaginative choices to ensure they and their essential services survive, including working with commercial operators to provide joint services: “CTs are guilty of keeping their heads down and not meeting commercial operators half way,” he says. Indeed, BECT holds five PCV Operator Licences which allows it to take some commercial work, and eight PCV drivers to drive its larger vehicles.
“For example, we’ve done the Park and Ride for the Bakewell Show in August and can take on private hire jobs. It’s been a steep learning curve but we’re already aiming to have the PCV standard of maintenance across the entire fleet, and will trade on the same footing as our neighbours.
“Of course, we have to keep our funding streams separate, and this is a real challenge,” says Nick, who’s very aware of the campaign to keep CTs with Section 19 licensing out of the commercial sector: “And I believe opponents of S19 have a case,” he says.
Among other income streams for BECT are a Bakewell charity bookshop, £2 fares from Dial A Bus and general fundraising for the scheme: “The bookshop has provided £10,000 in a year for us,” he says.
A merger with Glossop CT in 2015 has seen the fleet grow a further 11 vehicles, all based at Glossop, and delivered an economy of scale with management staff. And though Nick is keen to point out that BECT sees minibus supply as an open market, it has frequently chosen Minibus Options to build its vehicles.
“We’ve been buying from Minibus Options for ten years; they’re our local supplier, really. With Minibus Options we get excellent aftersales care. Minibuses like the Dambusters Sprinter have a specific purpose and BECT works with Minibus Options to select the ideal base vehicle and interior.
“Minibus Options is red-hot on compliance, such as Type Approval. Nine out of our 14 current vehicles are from Minibus Options, and we have another one on its way,” said Nick.
The next vehicle is a ‘bike bus’ equipped with cycle racking inside: “The cycle racks are very innovative.”
In the case of the Dambusters 222 service, the vehicle had to be suitable for the general public and have facility for public announcements – a Dambusters commentary is being devised for tourists this summer. The service runs on summer and Bank holidays from 30 March to 26 October and all Saturdays between June and August. It’s used by walkers to reach the start or finish point so they don’t have to walk the same path twice, and – as it follows the Derwent Dams used for practice runs by Wallis’s famous bouncing bombs – is popular for sightseeing.
Running from Fearfall Wood to King’s Tree, it is supported by a grant from the Peak District National Park Authority.
“As a charity, we can rarely lay out the full capital cost of our vehicles so most are financed,” says Nick. “Though the fleet is of very mixed type, we standardise on tracking and seat fixing so employee skills can transfer from one service to another.”
“We also favour under-floor cassette tail lifts, partly because internal lifts can make the vehicle look less welcoming and they do take up valuable space. We want all our vehicles to look comfortable.”
Where possible, BECT uses tip-up rear seats to accommodate wheelchairs, avoiding the need to remove and store seats, and making wheelchair space available without pre-booking.
The assimilation of the Glossop CT into the mix has been a boon, not just eating into overheads for both organisations and extending the rural reach of the grouping but has elevated the turnover to almost £1 million – a sizeable operation, but one which hasn’t lost sight of its core aim: “Our ethos is that we are a social enterprise. We have paid staff but we are not dependent on the scale of the operation.”
The scale of the task is much grander than that of many urban CTs. We took the Dambuster vehicle up to Longstone Edge, taking in views from Monsal Dale to Hassop. The rural roads and sparse population are challenging for BECT but, as Nick would freely admit, it’s not a bad office…