Heritage group faces licence suspensions

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £8.99.

Operator given 10 days to present necessary evidence after Traffic Commissioner hears about a number of defects and non-compliance issues

A coach operator faces a suspension of its licences could be suspended if it cannot provide information about drivers’ hours and service reliability, the Brighton Argus reported.

The Heritage Group, which runs four companies in Sussex, was given another 10 days to come up with the details after a protracted investigation by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

The investigation led to a public inquiry before Traffic Commissioner Nick Denton in Eastbourne on Tuesday, September 30, where Heritage also faced questions over vehicle safety and the legitimacy of a ‘party bus.’

Heritage Group, run partly by Christopher Stepe and Russell Stepe, owns Round And About, Sussex Commercial Services, Coach Hire Coaches and City Of Chichester Coaches, which trades as both TheSussexBus.com and Crawley Reds.

The Traffic Commissioner warned the pair that their licences could be suspended if they fail to hand over necessary material by October 10, which he said they should have readily available in their office.

He said: “If you don’t meet these deadlines I may have to consider suspending one or more of your licences. If you don’t co-operate from now on I will take regulatory action against your licences.”

CBW has been told that the Traffic Commissioner made clear that the operators’ conduct in failing to supply the information originally requested by the DVSA, and their attempts to make the information dependent on the outcome of the complaints lodged about various DVSA officials, was reprehensible and could not be permitted to continue. Mr Denton said it reflected badly on the good repute of Transport Managers Christopher and Russell Stepe.

CBW also understands that the companies involved are required to meet with DVSA officials on or before October 31, 2014, to discuss any matters arising from the evidence provided to the agency.

Issues were raised over the number 31 Sussex Bus route serving Bolnore, Haywards Heath, Uckfield and Heathfield, which was reported as running early, late or not at all on more than one occasion. The service is supplemented by the Government through a grant and the DVSA found it to have a 30% non-compliance rate.

There were also safety concerns over other buses. One had a cracked windscreen and a fuel tank leak, while another, believed to be a school bus operating in Burgess Hill, had been driven for about 200km with a faulty accelerator.

The company claimed it was a complaint by one ‘heavy-booted’ driver, before Nick Denton pointed out it had been logged by six drivers.

The Traffic Commissioner said: “If you have a vehicle as big as a bus that can either only crawl along or go full throttle, that is a problem and it’s slightly disconcerting that you are trying to belittle it.”

Philip Brown, the solicitor for Heritage Group, said afterwards: “The operator had the opportunity to present the facts relating to the circumstances surrounding the investigation and will be in a position to produce the documentation requested according to the timetable set by the Traffic Commissioner now that the dates required have been specified.”

The public inquiry will reconvene in November, though the date had not been finalised as CBW went to press.