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August 26 2015
By The routeone team

The routeone team is dedicated to bringing you the latest bus & coach industry news, views, jobs and more.

Travel Express loses appeal

The decision of Traffic Commissioner (TC) Nick Jones to cut the licence held by Wolverhampton-based Travel Express from 13 vehicles to eight, and that the company must pay 6,500, has been upheld by the Upper Tribunal on appeal.

The Tribunal also upheld the cancellation of two of the four local services operated by the company, and its ban from registering any new services until 15 March 2016.

The TC’s decision that Director and Transport Manager (TM) Kishan Singh Chumber was unfit to act as TM until he had passed a further CPC exam, giving the company three months in which to appoint a new TM, was not challenged.

In his decision the TC said that the problems were the result of an amateurish bus operation, headed by an individual who delegated nothing. He appeared to lack basic professional competence either as a manager or as an engineer.

The interference with rival operators on some routes was a reflection of the culture within the business led by an incompetent individual who lacked basic skills, who was hopeless in setting standards, and who was unable to control his drivers.

The lack of effective monitoring and running to timetable had not prevented Travel Express from running a relatively profitable business, as the passenger routes were well utilised by the public with other operators running at regular times. The company had reduced the income of other legitimate operators as a result of poor and illegal practices.

A significant feature was that Mr Chumber was the only manager in the organisation and claimed that he did not take leave and was never off sick. The TC did not accept Mr Chumber’s claim that he monitored timetable compliance. Vehicles were generally found to be in a very poor condition and were not even clean.

Mr Chumber’s incompetent management had resulted in vehicles carrying passengers when they were unsafe. In the case of two routes the actions of drivers had been unacceptable. There had been a detrimental effect on rival operators.

Finally the TC said that in view of the significant adverse history and a need for fundamental cultural changes, he considered that a new full-time TM was likely to be required. Whether Mr Chumber was able to defer to someone else running his business was likely to be an ongoing concern. He would need to allow the new TM to undertake the management role without interference.

He required any new TM to attend before him, to ask whether they had read his decision and were aware that failures could affect their repute and professional competence.

Before the Tribunal, Mark Laprell, for the company, argued that the TC had not explained why the appointment of a new professionally competent TM approved by him was not a sufficient remedy. Once there was a new and competent TM there was no need to reduce the authorisation, no need to remove routes or prevent new routes being registered, and no need to punish the company with a financial penalty. Dismissing the appeal, the Tribunal said that if an operator holding an international PSV O-Licence was allowed to continue in business, it must have professional competence, whether that was to be provided by the existing TM, or by someone new. However, having a TM of good repute was not a panacea for all ills. It was an essential prerequisite, but it might not be enough. A package of measures might be required.

The TC rightly considered that bringing risk down to an acceptable level required a package of coherent, cohesive and consistent measures that needed to fit together so that the size of the fleet matched the ability of the operator to maintain it in a fit and serviceable condition with proper records kept, and matched the demands of the registered local services to be provided to the public.

In this case, a new TM was clearly not the complete answer, especially where the new person would probably be appointed by Mr Chumber and would then be employed by a company that had Mr Chumber as sole director, sole shareholder, and controlling mind.

This was a bad case. The bus industry was highly competitive, and it was essential that bus operators were reassured that TCs would use their full range of powers to discourage operators from cutting corners, from gaining an unfair competitive advantage through non-compliance, or from taking risks with public safety.

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