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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 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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Latest Transport Law

Transport Law
We were approached by an operator who had received public inquiry paper several weeks earlier. The Operator instructed us to represent him at his inquiry listed for a hearing before the Traffic Commissioner’s (TC) only two weeks in advance.

There were several serious issues that the TC indicated he wanted to examine at the hearing and was threatening regulatory action against the Operator Company. The Operator had approached another firm of solicitors, who informed him that the likely outcome of the hearing would be loss of repute and licence revocation.

We provided the Operator with advice about immediate steps to be taken in preparation for the hearing. We requested the operator send us a number of documents critical to the success of his inquiry. A consideration of those document showed significant—but not insurmountable—shortfalls in maintenance standards and legal requirements.

The operator had recently appointed a new Transport Manager (TM) with an excellent reputation in his field. The TM worked along with us in analysing the Company’s compliance systems to create better compliance systems and improve the of the Company’s mindset about such.

We prepared extensive written representations and sent these to the TC in advance of the hearing along with supporting documentation.

We recommended that both the Operator (Director) and his Transport Manager attend the hearing. As expected the TC questioned the Operator and TM extensively about the various issued raised. We guided and advised the Operator and TM throughout the hearing. Following our final submissions, the TC decided not to revoke the licence or disqualify the Operator Company. The Operator was issued with a warning and a very short suspension of one vehicle until it had a further maintenance inspection and remedial work done. The Operator was allowed to keep the rest of his fleet working with minimal disruption to the business. The Operator was thrilled with our services and has since instructed us at least one other transport matter.
Transport Law
We recently represented two companies who were both called to the same public inquiry. Although separate entities, the companies were closely connected because of having the same set of directors. One of the companies (the Operator) had years previously been issued with a restricted goods vehicle operator’s licence. The other company had recently applied for the same kind of licence (the Applicant).

Over the previous year, the directors had decided to progressively move most of the Operator’s business interests to its sister company the Applicant. Without understanding the potential consequences, and before being granted its operator’s licence, the Applicant began using the Operator’s heavy goods vehicle. The Operator company had not informed the Traffic Commissioner (TC) of its change in business arrangements and of the apparent change of entity (though the companies were actually wholly owned subsidiaries of another company – see below).

The Public Inquiry was convened because of changes at this business group and a fundamental misunderstanding of the operator’s licence regime, and that there had been what appeared to be a change of entity involving the companies.

The TC needed to be satisfied as to whether the companies were not unfit to hold an operator’s licence due to relevant activities and convictions, and about the events relating to a change in the circumstances of the licence holder. The Operator risked revocation of its licence. The Applicant was at risk of not having its licence granted.

In advance of the inquiry, and to start building their case, we obtained as much information as we could about the businesses and provided each company comprehensive legal advice. We examined the companies’ compliance systems and made recommendations about immediate and longer-term changes that needed to be implemented. On our recommendations, the companies invested time and resources into their maintenance and other systems

As a result of our preliminary work and advice, the companies were fully prepared for the public inquiry hearing. In particular, to answer questions and provide evidence about the apparent change of entity.

At the hearing we demonstrated that the companies were running professional and competent businesses. With specific reference to the issue of the apparent change of entity, the TC accepted that Section 3(4) of the Goods vehicle (licencing of operators) Act 1995 was relevant and that this was not a typical “change of entity” case – because of the companies being subsidiaries. We were able to persuade the TC that the issues that lead to the inquiry arose out of ignorance rather than an attempt to mislead or gain financial advantage

The TC granted the new licence to the Applicant with the Operator company voluntarily surrendering its licence. The directors were delighted with the outcome of the public inquiry hearing and that they managed to avoid the damaging consequences they feared.
Transport Law

We were approached by a small business owner to represent them at the a public inquiry which had been called to consider their application for a new passenger vehicle operator’s licence.

The person applying for the licence had a long background of work in the transport industry as a driver but had never before operated his own transport business. One of the key issues was that the nominated transport manager was also nominated some other licences and the Traffic Commissioner was concerned whether this meant that the transport manager would be able to properly carry out their duties on so many licences at once.