Operator fast-tracked to Public Inquiry has O-licence revoked on the same day & Transport Manager disqualified
Cotmanhay-based coach operator Lavender Line Travel has had its O-licence revoked from midnight on February 7 by Traffic Commissioner (TC) Beverley Bell after drivers were allowed to work on school runs without taking their legal rest breaks.
The TC heard one employee had worked for 13 days without taking a weekly rest and had failed to keep proper records of his school runs. Investigators also reported another driver for working eight days without taking the appropriate weekly rest.
Bus and coach drivers must take a weekly rest of 45 consecutive hours, where they are engaged in no activity relating to their employment. This can be reduced to 24 hours providing the same period of rest is subsequently compensated.
During a second hearing on February 7 in Golborne, the TC examined evidence from an investigation carried out by VOSA. In August 2012, a Traffic Examiner made an unannounced visit to the Derbyshire coach firm. However, the VOSA officer was unable to speak to licence holder and owner Ruth Lavender as she had retired from the business due to ill health. Her husband, John Lavender, had taken over the running of the vehicles.
The examiner advised Mr Lavender – who was also named as Transport Manager for the firm – that it was illegal for him to operate vehicles under his wife’s licence, as the operating authority is not transferable. Mr Lavender suggested the business was now a partnership with his wife, but this would also require a new licence.
On examining record sheets completed by drivers and their time sheets, the VOSA officer found a number of offences. Mr Lavender said analysis of the tachograph charts was carried out by a member of staff in the office, but he conceded that she was probably not doing it correctly and he did not make additional checks to see if drivers were breaking the regulations covering their working duties. When interviewed, drivers admitted they were not aware of the legal requirements around taking rest and could not offer an explanation for their offences.
Mr Lavender also told the Examiner he had been running eight vehicles under the licence. Mrs Bell had given his wife authority to run seven.
When questioned about his failure to analyse the records of drivers and identify offences, Mr Lavender suggested the idea was to “get work, not make work”. As the firm’s Transport Manager he was required to ensure vehicles used under the licence ran in a safe, legal and compliant manner, as well as checking drivers worked within the regulations.
A separate visit, by a VOSA Vehicle Examiner, also revealed some issues with the operator’s maintenance procedures, specifically on safety inspections.
At the hearing on February 7, Mrs Bell heard further evidence from VOSA, including the fact that vehicles were not being given routine safety inspections on time and staff carrying out the work were not qualified.
After considering all of the evidence, Mrs Bell told Mr Lavender that his wife’s licence had to come to an end. She said: “I can not allow the licence to continue because it is held by your wife and she is no longer operating the vehicles. Operator licences are not transferable.
“What you should have done was make an application to my office for a partnership licence, or your own licence, when your wife retired. You chose not to do that.”
The TC also told Mr Lavender he should have been aware of the need to get a new licence in his role as the operator’s Transport Manager.
Turning to the offences reported by VOSA and paperwork produced at the hearing, Mrs Bell criticised Mr Lavender’s approach to the business.
“In 13 years of being a TC I have never seen paperwork in such an appalling state. It was as if you had picked up the records and thrown them in the air,” she remarked.
Ordering that the licence would be revoked with effect from 23:59 on February 7, 2013, Mrs Bell instructed her office to contact the relevant local authorities regarding school services provided by the firm. She also told Mr Lavender he had lost his good repute as Transport Manager and therefore would be disqualified from acting in that role for any operator in England, Scotland or Wales for three years. The order also means he can not work as a Transport Manager in Europe.
Commenting after the hearing, Mrs Bell said: “Fortunately, cases requiring such urgent action are rare. As soon as it came to my attention, this operator was fast tracked to an urgent public inquiry.
“In making the order for immediate closure of the business, I had to take vehicles off the road immediately as I could not risk passengers – mostly school pupils – being carried in unsafe vehicles and by an illegal operator.”