A West Yorkshire community transport operator has been fined nearly £4,000 for failing to run bus services on time – as well as some that did not operate at all.
SGI Community Transport CIC, which operated services in Dewsbury, Batley, Birstall, Cleckheaton, Wakefield and Ossett, ran fewer than two in five buses on time and had an overall compliance rate of less than 40 per cent. The
punctuality and reliability standard for bus services is 95 per cent.
Kevin Rooney, the region’s bus regulator, said the business had not acted with “any degree of integrity” and found that drivers had engaged in predatory behaviour with a rival bus operator.
At a public inquiry in Leeds last month, the Traffic Commissioner heard how an investigation by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) had revealed concerns over vehicle safety, alongside issues with bus service standards.
Mr Rooney also considered an application by the business for five extra permits, to operate more vehicles. SGI runs its services under community bus (section 22) permits, which are for non profit bodies.
DVSA examiners checked the firm’s bus services in June and October 2014 and found buses running early, late and some that failed to operate. On both occasions, over 60 per cent of the routes observed were non compliant.
One of the examiners also saw an SGI vehicle leaving Dewsbury bus station displaying an operator’s licence disc in the name of another business. The driver of the bus said he was working for Dale Steel, the owner of SGI
Community Transport CIC.
The business does not hold an operator’s licence and should not have been displaying a disc in the window of the bus.
An analysis of the SGI timetables revealed the firm needed 10 vehicles at peak times – despite only holding seven permits.
Mr Steel, who did not attend the hearing, disputed the examiners’ evidence.
He said roadworks had caused issues but the examiner found no evidence of roadworks on the route. He claimed the services had run and indicated he had used plain, white buses which the examiners would not have recognised.
He also suggested that the journeys could be proven by Real Time Information data but failed to provide this evidence to the Traffic Commissioner.
Mr Rooney concluded that evidence from the enforcement agency showed SGI drivers were engaging in improper predatory behaviour. In one instance, an SGI service was observed parked away from the bus stop, picking up a passenger and departing early once an Arriva service arrived.
Complaints received prior to the investigation suggested that SGI drivers were told to stay in front of Arriva buses at all times and had been parking dangerously in an attempt to block Arriva services.
Ruling that SGI had completely failed to operate registered services to any degree of reliability, Mr Rooney ordered the firm to pay a financial penalty of £3,850.
He also attached a condition to the firm’s existing permits preventing it from registering running any large buses on registered services without separate and specific personal written authority from a traffic commissioner.
Mr Rooney refused the application for additional permits.
The Traffic Commissioner added: “I hope that Dale Steel will reflect on his failed attempt to run registered bus services and leave that difficult business to the many highly professional people in the industry who strive
to do it properly, providing a safe and reliable service to their customers for the benefit of us all.”
At the time of the inquiry, SGI Community Transport CIC was running the following bus routes:
284 Thornhill Edge, Edge Avenue to Dewsbury Bus Station
184 Thornhill Edge, Edge Avenue to Ossett Academy
278 Dewsbury Bus Station to Wakefield Bus Station
126 Ossett Bus Station to Wakefield Bus Station
183 Headfield Road to Batley Girls’ High School
624A/B Batley Bus Station to Whitcliffe Town Street
The business also previously operated bus services in Birstall and Bradford.