Traffic commissioner’s report on Battersby Silver Grey Coaches

BATTERSBY Silver Grey Coaches has been the subject of a public inquiry after breaching the conditions of its public service licence by not properly recording drivers’ hours and breaching tachograph rules.

Deputy Traffic Commissioner for the North West, Simon Evans released the following written statement to the operator regarding his oral decision at the inquiry.

1.Harrison’s Coaches (Morecambe) Ltd trading as Battersby Silver Grey Coaches is the holder of a standard international public service vehicle licence of 40 vehicles, with 27 in possession and a single operating centre at White Lund Industrial Estate in Morecambe.

2.The operator was called before me at public inquiry as a result of a call up letter dated 20th March 2012, following an investigation by traffic examiner Smith into irregularities with regard to the use of tachographs and drivers’ hours. Matters raised before were concerned with good repute, financial standing and professional competence of the company and of the repute and professional competence of its transport managers, one of whom is the managing director: there are allegations of breaches of undertakings and the existence of prohibitions.

3.I heard evidence over some considerable time today and there are a number of very clear “plus points” which I should and do take account of. This is the first public inquiry which has been faced by Harrisons Coaches (Morecambe) Ltd and there was a positive reaction by the operator to the findings of the traffic examiner, even before the public inquiry was announced. There has been, and I can see, an investment in IT to seek to improve the position so that errors do not accumulate as quickly and go unchecked, perhaps as they did before. I take account of the hands-on nature of the management, which I applaud, and the straightforward and open approach which has been exhibited by those officers of the company before me today.

4.I should further add that the general impression that I got was of a dedicated group of drivers, which is also to your credit and also to your benefit.

5.There have, of course, also been significant negatives which I need to take account of also, the raft of drivers’ hours’ matters that we have talked about at length today. These are serious defaults for a long established company which surprises and dismays me. Views may differ about the relative volume of those issues but I stand by the view I expressed in the hearing that when as many as 11 drivers over a period of 5 months sample period, failed to record their positioning journeys, that that amounts to “wholesale failure”, especially when the incidence of positioning journeys occurring are, I am told, but a small part of the operation, or activity of the company. It is to say the least, and I appreciate that you are aware of this, disappointing to find that both transport managers and the staff member who is responsible for the training of others in drivers’ hours matters and their induction, are also implicated in the offences which have been found.

6.I record that as a result of that there are clear grounds for making a direction against the company under Section 17(3) (aa), that is the undertakings provision and under 17(3)(c) which relates to the prohibitions.

7.I have concluded that this is not a case where I need to find that repute has been lost by either the company or its transport managers. I do believe that in addressing myself to the so-called Priority Freight question, I can find that compliant operation is possible as evidenced by the steps that have begun to be taken, so I am now providing the opportunity for the company to show that my confidence that that view is correct is rightly placed.

8.I note that the licence allows for the operation of 40 vehicles and that there are presently 27 of them in possession. As a result of what I have heard I would not be satisfied at present that systems and practices are sufficiently robust or resilient and proven for a licence permitting the use of as many as 40 vehicles (with a number of additional drivers) to be operated. I note the offer to surrender 5 vehicles, or 5 vehicle discs made at the hearing. This indication is a helpful one in the sense that it tends to accord with my view, that for the reasons I have just referred that this is a case demanding more than the recording of a warning, for me to act proportionately.

9.Generally traffic commissioners do not accept offers of surrender in these circumstances at public inquiry. That is not to say it is not possible but having considered the offer that is made, it is not one that I will accept either. I dispose of the matter by directing a curtailment of the licence to 35 vehicles on an indefinite basis, formally and for the record I vary the condition attached to the licence detailing the maximum number of vehicles to be covered so that it reads 35 vehicles and I do that for an indefinite period.

10.I need to say to you that my confidence in you as an operator has been damaged, or in the company has been damaged, and so it is with the transport managers who, whilst their repute remains intact, they and the company will now be in the spotlight in the period which is ahead. During that time they will need to make sure their undoubted good intentions translate into positive action of the sort which does not bring you back here in the future.

11.Speaking to you Mr Blaikie and you Mr Harrison as drivers, you also know you have suspensions of your professional entitlement; it does not affect your ordinary entitlement. Clearly you would be making a huge mistake if you were to driver a public service vehicle during that time. I do not suppose for a moment that you would do that but I give you that warning.

Simon Evans

Deputy Traffic Commissioner

North Western Traffic Area

11th May 2012