Bridge crash operator loses licence

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Cavendish Liner found to not meet financial standing, have not analysed a single tachograph record in 2017 and to have operated for a time without a qualified transport manager

The O-licence held by Cavendish Liner Ltd has been revoked by Traffic Commissioner (TC) for the West of England, Kevin Rooney, with effect from 2359hrs on July 18. Despite the revocation of the licence, no adverse findings were made against two transport managers Shaun Haden and Simon Gard, the latter of which was commended for his actions by the TC.

The Public Inquiry (PI) arose from a serious crash which occurred on April 14, 2016, when one of the operator’s vehicles struck a railway bridge in Bournemouth. The top deck roof was torn completely off and a number of the seats on the upper deck were folded flat by the impact. The bus was carrying a group of children from Thailand attending Cavendish School of English. Fortunately, the four children on the upper deck saw that the bus would collide with the bridge and moved themselves to safety.

Cavendish Liner had previously attended a PI in relation to the licence grant and again as the related company Cavendish School of England Ltd. Separation of the two businesses was discussed, but at the latest PI, it was found that finances were generally kept within the school’s account. One of the key witnesses, Nathan Santangelo-Barber, introduced himself as ‘Operations Manager for Cavendish School of English,’ and Transport Manager Simon Gard had to contact a member of staff at the school to get money available on a payment card. It was clear that the businesses remained inter-linked, despite the previous two PIs which sought to resolve this issue.

The financial information provided showed access as an average to the required amount of financial standing, but this was achieved only by a substantial transfer on the eve of the PI and was therefore discounted.

On the crash, the operator said there were two contributory factors – the now dismissed driver ignoring three separate low bridge markers, and the unqualified transport manager, Kirsty Fergusson, re-allocating the double-decker to the job without checking that the route was suitable. Mr Santangelo-Barber said he had not sought to take disciplinary action against her because she was the only person in the office who was able to arrange the school transport that was needed. The TC called this an appalling explanation.

The TC said: “The root cause of the crash appears to have been the lack of continuous and effective management of the transport operation as the company was operating without professional competence, that is, without a transport manager, at the time.”

One undertaking on the licence had been to carry out a full compliance systems audit to be undertaken and submitted to the Office of the Traffic Commissioner by March 2016, which did not happen, despite the current management being present at that PI.

The TC said he could give little to no weight to any promises offered by the current team as a result. A Foster Tachographs audit submitted on behalf of the company noted that, on May 19, 2017, no tachograph charts had been analysed for any driving in 2017.

The TC concluded: “The issue, as I see it, is that the bus operation is a small adjunct to a large business. It does not receive the proper engagement it deserves from the directors or the school’s operations manager. It does not appear to have the autonomy it needs to make investment decisions. It is run as a limb of the school, rather than as an entity in its own right.

“I do not think that the directors fully realise that the lack of professional competence in early 2016 could easily have caused many lives to be lost. As currently constituted, this is not a business that is fit to operate public service vehicles.

“The business is free to make a fresh application. For such an application to succeed, it will need to demonstrate that the applicant entity is being led by at least one statutory director who has the time and the inclination to be involved with it on a day-to-day basis. It will need to show, and thereafter maintain, its own finances. Most of all, the applicant management team will need to show that they care about the transport operation, not as an adjunct to a wider business, but as a public service provider in its own right.”