A long-delayed Office of Fair Trading report that concludes dial-a-ride is unlikely to be anti-competitive was laid before Tynwald this week.

It follows a preliminary investigation launched back in late 2019 into complaints from the taxi trade that they were being driven out of business by Bus Vannin’s ConnectVillages service.

ConnectVillages was launched as a 12-month trial in December 2018, with pre-booked minibuses replacing some scheduled bus services in the north of the island.

There have been claims that cuts to timetabled bus services have left communities cut off.

But supporters say the door-to-door service has proved popular with some.

Auditors Grant Thornton were subsequently brought in as independent consultants to help conduct the OFT inquiry.

They concluded that ConnectVillages appears to have had a limited impact on the taxi trade in the north of the island and is unlikely to be anti-competitive.

It said the service has shown a slight but not material increase in passenger numbers following the replacement of previous off-peak bus routes but has achieved a goal of making transport in the area more accessible.

The report said off-peak services would have been cut regardless of whether or not ConnectVillages had taken to the road.

But the OFT report does add, however, that without further information from the taxi operators, ‘we can not conclude definitively that there has been no significant impact on the taxi trade as a result of the implementation of the ConnectVillages service’.

Dial-a-ride had left a ‘minor gap in the market’, it notes, as there was now no evening service to most of the north of the island with the exception of Jurby, although Bus Vannin has submitted an application to cover Friday and Saturday evenings.

And the report says there may be merit in the claims about unfair competition from the state-funded ConnectPorts service.

This service was set up to provide a service to households who could not get to the airport for the early morning flight using normal scheduled buses but went on to primarily provide a patient transfer service.

The report concludes there is no indication that ConnectPorts was set up with predatory intent and is unlikely to be anti-competitive as there has been no indication of the abuse of a dominant position.

But the consultants considered there was risk it could contravene government recommendations on state funding.

Bus Vannin agreed a budget of £125,000 with the DHSC to run the patient transfer ConnectPorts service, while also providing a commercial service to fee paying passengers.

Grant Thornton said it had not been provided with any financial information to confirm that the patient transfer service does not subsidise the commercial service, nor that charges are in line with those that a normal market operator would charge.

Industry body Unite Taxis has criticised the report, claiming there were fundamental flaws in its definition of the market’.

It said it failed to recognise pre-booked taxis were already providing a demand responsive service.

And it argued that a proposed island-wide roll-out of dial-a-ride would have a devastating effect on the taxi trade and would ‘destroy jobs’.