Stagecoach Devon has been ordered to provide free services in Exeter on two weekends in December by Traffic Commissioner (TC) Kevin Rooney. It comes after the operator was called to Public Inquiry (PI) for matters including poor reliability, with an investigation by DVSA having found that around 21% of its services did not run to timetable.
In a point that will resonate further afield, Mr Rooney underlines in his written decision that operators lacking sufficient driver resource to operate all journeys should reduce registered provision to a level that they can run reliably.
The value of the free services in Exeter will be £120,000. In addition, Stagecoach Devon has made a statement of intent that it will provide a member of staff during peak times at Exeter bus station to maintain displays and provide advice to passengers, at an estimated cost of £70,000 per year.
Mr Rooney found that the operator had not been quick enough to act on its shortage of drivers, although he accepts that there is an industry-wide shortage of drivers due to multiple factors. The TC has also criticised the information provided to passengers, and he questions the reliability of the Bus Open Data Service in his decision.
Stagecoach Devon has already removed commercial mileage as a result of driver shortages and it has raised rates of pay, although Mr Rooney notes that 69 drivers had been allocated to the Commonwealth Games for a three-week period during the summer.
“The question for me is whether the operator has taken sufficient action to have enough drivers or, alternatively or in addition, to deregister services to the level it can support,” the TC says in his decision.
“Many of those who have complained to the operator, to [Devon County Council] or to me would not like the latter course of action, but it is a proper course to take if there is not sufficient resource to operate at pre-existing levels.”
The order of free services in Exeter was made following an outline proposal for such from Stagecoach Devon that was subsequently presented in written form. Mr Rooney says he does not favour straight financial penalties for poor reliability, as they do “nothing to help those directly affected.”
In its initial proposal, the operator said it needed to work out the financial impact and ensure that no competitor would be adversely affected. Had Mr Rooney ordered a financial penalty, at its uppermost scope it would have amounted to £234,850, less than the costs that will be incurred by Stagecoach Devon through the free services and provision of a staff member at Exeter bus station.
“Taken together, the two measures would exceed the level of financial penalty I find to be appropriate,” the TC adds. Stagecoach Devon may apply to be released from the statement of intent about the additional member of staff “if the circumstances support it.”
Consideration of poor reliability at PI follows an earlier reduction of Stagecoach Devon’s vehicle authorisation by Mr Rooney as a result of an accident involving a double-decker.