Gordon’s Minibus Hire’s licence revoked and Falconer Minibuses’ licence bid refused

Allowing his O-Licence discs to be used by an unlicensed operator has led to the revocation of the two-vehicle restricted licence held by Prestwick-based Gordon Buchanan, trading as Gordon’s Minibus Hire, by Traffic Commissioner (TC) Joan Aitken.

The TC also refused an application for a five-vehicle national licence by Ayr-based Neil Falconer, trading as Falconer Minbuses, who had been using Mr Buchanan’s licence discs.

Mr Buchanan, of Whiteside Cottages, Tarbolton Road, Monktown, Prestwick, and Mr Falconer, of Castlehill Road, Ayr, had been called before the TC at an Edinburgh Public Inquiry. Mr Buchanan did not appear.

The TC said that her Office had been advised by South Ayrshire Council that the Council’s Regulatory Panel had suspended Mr Falconer’s taxi vehicle licence as a result of the vehicles failing a number of taxi tests.

In June 2012, a warning letter was issued to Mr Falconer who at that time held a restricted PSV O-Licence following an adverse maintenance investigation undertaken by DVSA.

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) Vehicle Engineer Fraser Hunter said that on 29 June he inspected one of Mr Falconer’s vehicles. He marked the inspection unsatisfactory because the exhaust system was leaking.

He also recommended further investigations as the vehicle, which was in Mr Falconer’s livery, displayed an O-Licence disc in name of Gordon Buchanan. In a telephone conversation Mr Falconer told him that he was leasing the disc from Mr Buchanan.  

The TC said that in a letter, Mr Buchanan had written to say that he had known Mr Falconer for a number of years and in the past they had assisted each other. When Mr Falconer applied for a standard licence he incorrectly filled in his application, thus rendering his own restricted licence void.

Mr Falconer then enquired of both SPT and the TC’s office about his situation and asked about leasing his operating discs until his application had been approved. He was as far as he was aware never told that could not happen as it was illegal.

At that time he had no vehicles and no contracts to fulfil. He was acting in good faith to assist another local operator, and at no time thought he was wrong in what he was doing.  

Mr Falconer said that his son John had passed his CPC and would be Transport Manager. He had held a restricted licence for 30-35 years and undertaken school contracts for approximately 15 years and contract for Enable in Ayr for 34 years.  

He had ticked “no” to surrender on the licence application form and Leeds wrote to him to say that he could not be the holder of two licences in one traffic area and that if he wished to proceed he had to complete a SUR1 form and return it to Leeds, along with the discs and licence paperwork.

He messed up. He was thinking he was not going to surrender the licence until he got the standard licence. He sent the discs back. He then used Mr Buchanan’s licence to keep going using his own minibuses and sub-contracting some other work to taxis operated by JJ Travel in Ayr, with the consent of the Council. He had thought he could keep going.

South Ayrshire had seen Mr Buchanan’s licence. He understood now that it was not allowed. He still had the disc which Mr Hunter saw because every now and again South Ayrshire would pull him in and ask to see insurance and MoTs.

John Falconer said that he had passed his Transport Manager CPC but his transport experience was limited to being an escort on school runs, not in management. He knew about tachographs and downloads and record keeping and would supervise driver defect reporting. He was confident he could cope with five vehicles.

In her decision, the TC said that she was not satisfied that Mr Falconer was a person who had the repute, ability or insight to operate to the standards required by a regulated regime. It was part of Mr Falconer’s case that his vehicles all had current test certificates. Enquiries revealed that on a majority of occasions his vehicles did not pass on first presentation.

There was significant evidence that Mr Falconer had failed to operate vehicles in a roadworthy condition. It was patent that he tested the patience and goodwill of the South Ayrshire Council, which had given him chances over the years to put his taxis into good order in terms of their roadworthiness and presentation. He could not accept their standards and ultimately they took the action of removing his taxi licence.

Roadworthiness was not a marginal matter and the operation of PSVs requires roadworthiness. Failings at annual test were not incidentals, they mattered for they served as a test not only of the vehicle condition, but of the integrity of the proper arrangements in place to secure roadworthiness all year round.

She was not going to grant a standard licence for five vehicles to a man who had demonstrated that he could not arrange to maintain minibuses in a roadworthy condition and who had to have his taxi licence taken from him despite numerous warnings and attempts by South Ayrshire Council to bring him to up to standard.   

He had in his possession discs belonging to another operator and was using them to undertake public contract work. He didn’t give them back to Mr Buchanan or to her Office or to the Central Licensing Unit at Leeds. He retained those discs and only handed them back when she demanded them at the PI. He kept them to show to South Lanarkshire Council. He had no entitlement to have those discs in his possession. It was inexcusable.

Revoking Mr Buchanan’s licence, the TC said that by giving his discs to another person and especially a person who did not hold an O-Licence, Mr Buchanan breached the trust reposed in him and undermined the purposes of operator licensing. While he committed a gross misjudgement in giving the discs to Mr Falconer, she did not believe criminality or profiteering was his motivation.