TC Kevin Rooney has revoked the majority of Section 19 permits held by NORDCAT due to the way it had been operating
TC Kevin Rooney has revoked all the large bus Section 19 permits held by North Dorset Community Accessible Transport (NORDCAT) after finding that it was not an exempt body because of the way it was currently operating, and because it did not have suitable arrangements to keep large vehicles fit and serviceable.
TC Rooney also revoked 15 of the 20 standard vehicle Section 19 permits because it had demonstrated that it was not capable of maintaining a medium-size fleet in a fit and serviceable condition. He attached a condition on the use of those five remaining permits that they should not be used for home-to-school transport. He considered that that decision would allow NORDCAT to meet the definition of an exempt body.
The TC said that there was a wholly owned subsidiary, Nordcat Services (Services). He was told that NORDCAT was set up by Dorset County Council in 2001 to provide community transport. Services was set up to carry out commercial operations. Trustee/Director Gerald Rose said that Services held a contract with Kingston Maurward College (KMC). General Manager of NORDCAT and sole Director of Services Helen Reed told him that the college contract was with NORDCAT direct.
Ms Reed told the TC that Services’ surplus was paid to NORDCAT. The publicly available accounts for Services for the year ending 30 September 2021 showed a turnover of £440,879. It appeared to Mr Rooney that Services was a commercial organisation operating a commercial service without the benefit of an O-Licence. Asked whether legal advice had been sought, Ms Reed said that it had not been possible to find a lawyer who had knowledge of PSV O-Licence law. The problem was that they had never thought of Services as a separate company.
The TC said that he was told that the journey length was 25 miles, so above the 10 miles given in the guidance as having a small impact. The KMC contract involved 10 minibuses and one 33-seater. The large bus permits were only used on the school contract. The non-school work included daily transport for the elderly to and from the shops, three or four runs a day. There were runs to stroke club, to hospital appointments and suchlike. These were all done using the minibuses. There was one smaller vehicle but driven by volunteer drivers, so not needing any licence.
NORDCAT’s charitable status was not sufficient in itself to satisfy non-commercial status. The TC considered that Services was an illegal operator of public service vehicles and that that was facilitated by NORDCAT loaning the authority of its Section 19 permits. The charity had 23 permits in total which, in his judgement, classified it as medium size, when compared with typical coach and bus operations. It was certainly not small, being 10 times that allowed for a restricted PSV operator.
Apart from the major bus operator in the area, he would think it was among the bigger operators in North Dorset.
This was a permit operation. That did not mean that the passengers and other road users did not deserve to be safe. The TC could not apply a lower standard for maintenance than he would for a PSV operation. He found that NORDCAT did not have the competence or capability to maintain larger vehicles or to maintain any significant number of smaller vehicles.
The TC directed that copies of his decision be sent to the Community Transport Association (CTA), the Charity Commission and KMC. Based on the evidence provided by the TC, CTA has revoked NORDCAT’s remaining permits.