Coaches Excetera revoked and banned for six years

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'Vast' drivers' hours infringements and false records lead to company's and directors' ban

Croydon Coaches (UK), trading as Coaches Excetera, its Director and Transport Manager (TM) Giampiero Mazza, and former Director Sirichai Trilertwong, have been disqualified from holding or obtaining a PSV O-Licence for six years.

Traffic Commissioner (TC) Sarah Bell revoked the company's licences following a three-day Public Inquiry. She also disqualified Mr Mazza from acting as a TM for six years.

The TC was told that there were vast infringements of the drivers’ hours rules and false records. Manual records had been made by the drivers but never produced to DVSA.

Three companies, Croydon Coaches, BETC and Atbus, were operating as one, something that was denied by Mr Mazza.

The company had failed to notify the TC of a change of director. Both the director and TM were difficult to contact and did not co-operate with the investigation.

Mr Trilertwong was not in control of what was going on. Either Mr Mazza did not carry out proper tachograph checks or deliberately chose to ignore tachograph infringements.

Records were made up after the event. One driver referred to going into the office being given blank analogue charts and told to complete them.

Warning letters produced now were not given to the drivers and they never received any warnings until after the DVSA investigation started. Middle management encouraged drivers to make false records.

There were 123 accepted occasions when vehicles had been driven without the driver’s digital card being inserted. There were a further 147 allegations of hours offences and unauthorised withdrawal, which the company and Mr Mazza were unable to admit or deny.

The company acknowledged failures in its maintenance system, including a poor annual test record.

Making the revocation and disqualification orders, the TC said that by March 2017, there were real issues with drivers’ hours, tachographs and the Working Time Directive.

Much of the hearing was taken up with whether there were systems, but they were not working satisfactorily, or whether there were no systems at all. Where a system did not work it was no system at all.

What was clear is that, from being compliant with robust systems in 2010, by 2016 those systems were not present, or if present they were not working to a significant degree across the board.

The level of serious offending denoted that whatever was in place, it did not prevent or reduce serious breaches. One did not go from a base point of compliance to 270 offences, including 42 false records, across six months, overnight.

Some drivers believed that they were working for one company when in fact the documentation was for CETC, BETC or Buses Etc UK. A driver who thought he was working for Atbus was in fact employed by Croydon Coaches. Another driver was paid by different entities on different months but believed he worked for Croydon Coaches.

It flowed through the acts and/or omissions of Mr Trilertwong and Mr Mazza, that the drivers felt under pressure. Drivers were in a precarious position when work schedules were tight or indeed unlawful. That was not an excuse to break the law.

However, the way the work was allocated and ‘in service’ issues dealt with was not always lawful, placing drivers in a difficult position.

Operators and TMs owed a duty of care to drivers to ensure that all work could be completed within lawful hours. The drivers’ hours maximums were just that, absolute maximums. They were not a target.

The failings in relation to vehicle roadworthiness and drivers' hours, together with a failure to allow a meaningful assessment of current compliance, were a dangerous mix.