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Case Study : Bus company on Fourth Public Inquiry

This case involved a passenger vehicle public inquiry in Birmingham involving a coach company. The operator was accused of multiple maintenance failings including a poor MOT pass rate and high rate of roadworthiness prohibitions.

To make matters worse they had been to three previous public inquiries in the last seven years and there was a suggestion of failing to properly cooperate with the DVSA. As sister company which also held an operators licence but had since ceased trading was also called. The situation was sensitive owing to the fact that much of the operators involved transporting school children.

 

Background of the case

The company's sole director was also its transport manager and the Traffic Commissioner was going to consider whether to disqualify the director from acting as a transport manager. At the company's previous public inquiry, its permitted vehicle numbers had been cut in half and the licence was given a three day suspension. The danger was that the Traffic Commissioner would be looking to escalate the action taken preciously and this time put the company out of business.

At the public inquiry not only was a DVSA examiner there to give evidence in person but the trade press were there and a representative from the local council which the company had a number of school transport contracts with. There were therefore reputational issues to consider as well as the disciplinary action being considered by the Traffic Commissioner. If the press reported badly on the case then the company's commercial reputation could have been damaged.

 

How we helped the company

We started off by carefully examining all of the public inquiry papers the bus company had received from the Traffic Commissioner's office. These amounted to about 200 pages altogether and included DVSA reports, details of previous public inquiries and details of the operator's background history.

We initially took details from the operator's director about the case and the background to the company. Having carefully reviewed the paperwork and spoken to the director at length, we put together a detailed list of all the documents and information we needed to help us prepare the public inquiry.

This lead to us carrying out a through review of all of the operators systems, records and procedures etc. In particular this included a careful review of their maintenance records, carefully scrutinising their PMIs (6 weekly maintenance records), drivers daily inspections and MOT history.

From this we made a number of recommendations and observations to the operator. We advised on written systems, implementing a regular brake test program and prepared a set of written instructions to be issued to drivers. We prepared a detailed written statement to send to the Traffic Commissioner in advance of the public inquiry setting out the company's position in advance.

We prepared for and represented the operator at the public inquiry itself. Careful cross examination of the DVSA examiner, who was there as a witness, took the sting out of some of the allegations which appeared less serious when picked apart methodically in the public inquiry room. The operator's sole director (who was also the transport manager) answered a series of carefully planned questions we put to him in front of the Traffic Commissioner in order to give the Traffic Commissioner the operator's full case.

Towards the end of the public inquiry we gave a detailed closing speech where we pointed out to the Traffic Commissioner all of the mitigating circumstances, drawing attention to the efforts made by the operator to put things right and how things would be much better in future.

Outcome of the Public Inquiry

The Traffic Commissioner took time to consider his decision before returning after about 30 minutes to deliver his verdict. He decided that the number of vehicles that could used under the licence would be reduced by one and otherwise there would be only a warning. Given that the company had three spare operator licence discs at the time, this didn't cause any hardship. The Traffic Commissioner took no action against the transport manager and allowed the operator licence for the company which had ceased trading to be surrendered with no disciplinary action taken.

The operator was pleased about the outcome and this was a very good result for these circumstances.

 

IF YOU NEED HELP OR ADVICE

If you would like to speak to a public inquiry expert on your own situation, then please call us free of charge on 0800 1777 522.  We'll be very pleased to hear from you and happy to talk through your case. 

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