Walton’s Coaches PI appeal upheld

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The initial PI was called following an unsatisfactory VOSA investigation
The initial PI was called following an unsatisfactory VOSA investigation

Appeal focussed on the decision to curtail fleet after a number of maintenance prohibitions were discovered by VOSA

Preston-based Walton’s Coaches has successfully appealed against a decision made by the Deputy Traffic Commissioner (DTC) for the North West, Simon Evans, curtailing its fleet size following a Public Inquiry (PI) on December 4, 2012.

At the appeal hearing on March 15, the company was represented by Mr T Sasse, Barrister. Mr P J Walton, a director of the company and Mrs M E Walton also a director of the company and its Transport Manager were also present.

The appeal was focussed on the reduction of fleet size. The firm did not dispute any of the additional undertakings or that some reduction of fleet size by the DTC was justified in all the circumstances.

The initial PI was called following a school bus check on June 11, 2012 and the results of an unsatisfactory VOSA investigation of the company’s maintenance arrangements, carried out between July 13, 2012 and July 19, 2012. The firm had accumulated a total of nine prohibitions, three marked ‘S’. The VOSA investigation also showed shortcomings in the administration of the operator’s preventive maintenance systems. Walton’s did not challenge VOSA’s evidence at the PI although it did not agree with all the findings.

As part of his decision, the DTC reduced the firm’s fleet size from 20 vehicles to 15 vehicles for an indefinite period. In addition, he stated Mrs Jill Atherton be added as an additional Transport Manager and that the operator undertake a random audit of at least one driver per week to ensure they are undertaking their walkround checks correctly with the findings recorded and made available to staff from VOSA or the Office of the Traffic Commissioner. Furthermore, an audit of maintenance systems, maintenance documentation and vehicle inspections will be conducted by a Traffic Consultant of repute in December 2012 and June 2013.

Following the appeal, the tribunal found Mr Evans decision to restrict the permitted size of the appellant’s fleet to 15 vehicles for an indefinite period was “disproportionate in all the circumstances”. The tribunal felt it failed to take account of the company’s previous satisfactory regulatory history since November 2003; the financial implications of a curtailment of this size; and the steps which had been put in place by the date of the PI to arrest the sudden and dramatic deterioration in its maintenance standards.

However, it was also concluded that it would be inappropriate for Walton’s to be allowed to operate more than its current daily average of some 17 vehicles until it has been able to show that the various alterations in its maintenance arrangements are operating satisfactorily. These alterations included the appointment of an additional Transport Manager, a new maintenance contractor to undertake preventive maintenance inspections, and an in-house vehicle fitter together with refresher training of drivers on the importance of their daily walkround checks and written defect reports.

The tribunal added: “A fleet of 17 PSVs is the fleet size required to underpin the profitability of the company. We thus consider that the appropriate course is for us to substitute our own decision for that of the DTC.” The condition recorded at the PI was therefore amended to read:

“The condition on the licence that relates to fleet size varied by a reduction from 20 vehicles to 17 vehicles with effect from 2359hrs on May 9, 2013. This reduction will remain in force until March 15, 2014 at the earliest.”

Also, the additional undertaking that was recorded at the PI has been amended as follows: “Maintenance systems, maintenance documentation and vehicle inspections will be audited by a transport consultant of repute in June 2013 and December 2013.”

A further undertaking was also added stating: “In 12 months from March 15, 2013 an inspection of the company’s maintenance arrangements will be carried out The initial PI was called following an unsatisfactory VOSA investigation by VOSA.”