Community transport operators are being invited to bid for a new contract to run the dial-a-bus service in parts of Lancashire.
It is the first time that the service has gone out to tender since its budget was cut by Lancashire County Council last year.
Funding for the on-demand minibus and community car facility – which provides transport for vulnerable or isolated residents – was reduced by £175,000, taking it down to three quarters of its previous total.
The new contract is now being advertised at annual value of £375,000 – just over half of the £696,000 which it was worth two years ago.
At the time of the original reduction, the consortium of organisations which runs the service warned that some of them may not survive under the new deal.
In a complicated arrangement, dial-a-bus is provided by different operators depending on whereabouts users live.
Most of the county is covered by the council’s in-house Travelcare service. But in five districts – Preston, Chorley, South Ribble, Ribble Valley and West Lancashire – community transport is provided by a group of independent operators contracted by Lancashire County Council, under the umbrella of the Community Transport Consortium (CTC).
The CTC also supplies the volunteer-led car pick-up service across all districts in the county.
The newly-advertised contract, which has been approved by cabinet members, maintains the previous split between council and third sector provision. However, the successful bidder will be expected to “work closely with Travelcare to provide an integrated community transport service across the whole county”.
The new operator will be set targets for increasing the number of passenger trips made under the service. During 2016/17, 6,200 passengers made more than 166,000 journeys.
An expansion in the number of volunteers involved in delivering the service will also be expected. That figure stood at 160 in 2018/19.
The new provider will be responsible for promoting the dial-a-bus service in the five districts in which they will operate it and the community car facility across the county.
The bids will be judged on quality criteria – which will account for 60 per cent of the score – and financial considerations, which will make up the remainder. The initial duration of the contract is two years, with an option to extend it up to a maximum of a further three.