Express Coach Repairs (ECR) has carried out its first conversion of a Volvo Caetano Levante coach into a 67-seater.New 3+2 seats with three-point belts, supplied by Wrexham-based Prime Passenger Seating, were fitted to the existing seat tracking by ECR’s team based in Pickering, North Yorkshire.New seating supplied by PrimeThe conversion, carried out for Bennetts of Gloucester, incorporates leather piping and headrests in the seats to give the vehicle a more luxurious feel, along with wood-effect flooring.While on site the vehicle was repainted from National Express white into the firm’s blue and orange livery.It is the first of three Levante coaches for conversion. Bennetts previously used the coaches, registered new in October 2010, on its National Express contracts. Its fleet was updated in April with the delivery of four new Volvo Levante coaches.Bennetts Coaches has been working with National Express since November 2010 and during this time it has been awarded Operator of the Year at National Express’ annual awards for two consecutive years, most recently in 2013. It operates 10 daily departures on the Gloucester-London route 444 and is ranked by National Express as a ‘Gold Operator’.It is also a six-star accredited BUSK Benchmark member.Bennett’s 30-strong fleet, with an average age of 4.5 years, comprises 22 coaches, plus eight Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses used on Gloucester and Cheltenham park-and-ride routes.
Transdev Blazefield has announced that the York City Sightseeing service, operated with open-top double-deckers, is to be converted to entirely electric operation over the next 12 months.Four Dennis Tridents will be repowered to complement an existing example, which was launched in September last year (routeone, Big Story, 10 September 2014) and is performing â€œexceptionally well,â€ says Transdev Blazefield Managing Director (Operations) Russell Revill.This testbed vehicle was converted by Sheffield-based Magtec, which is expected to carry out the work on the other four buses.â€œWe will have a fleet of five electric open-top double-deckers, hopefully by the end of 2016’s season,â€ adds Mr Revill. â€œWe have identified one existing open-topper and the other three are currently closed top, but will be converted prior to entering service with electric powerpacks.â€œThere is still a little bit of fine tuning to be done to the existing bus, but it has performed exceptionally well and has been very reliable. We have been pleasantly surprised.â€Transdev Blazefield has added its weight to the argument for electric propulsion, with CEO Alex Hornby declaring: â€œThere are lots of views within the industry, and there is gas power and fuel cells, but we believe that full electric is where things will go in the future.â€œThe range isn’t there yet, but for our open-top tours in York that isn’t a problem. The vehicles cover between 50-70 miles per day.â€œBesides the first vehicle’s environmental impact, the other main benefit is that it’s completely silent.â€
Licenced operators have long ‘enjoyed’ a fractious relationship with those CTOs that live on the very edge of what is permitted under Section 19 legislation. But one group has had enough, and its report into what it alleges is occurring is damning. Tim Deakin digests itCBCTA members staged protest in Cambridge last week to highlight reportA major political collision looks ever more likely as the increasingly ugly dispute over community transport organisations (CTOs) undertaking council contracts rumbles on.One organisation – the Cambridgeshire Bus, Coach and Taxi Association (CBCTA) – escalated things last week when it held a protest in Cambridge at what it claims are “illegal financial and regulatory advantage being given to some CTOs, the effects of which have caused manipulation of Cambridgeshire County Council’s procurement of commercial transport contracts.”CBCTA has commissioned a report detailing its case. It is an explosive document, but all allegations are backed up with evidence. The author is Gregory Page, a retired police officer with the Economic Crime Department of Cambridgeshire Constabulary, and the whole package is available online.In where it hurtsCBCTA’s report contains several serious allegations, including one that a number of councils in Cambridgeshire have subsidised the purchase of vehicles by CTOs with grants that were “hypothecated to support non-commercial activities,” despite their knowledge that the vehicles would be used on competitively-won tenders.Money has “knowingly been diverted to cross-subsidise the fulfilment of councils’ commercial interests, contrary to DfT guidelines,” and has been secured via “submission of fraudulent applications for grants from County, District, Parish and Town Councils,” says the report.In a nutshell, the report alleges that these vehicles are used by CTOs on work previously held by licenced operators in a process carried out deliberately to reduce tender prices.That is in plain contravention of EU regulations, which state that “[CTO] revenues (including grants and contract income) can be legally used only to cover [the organisation’s] costs.”The CBCTA report claims that one contract with a live daily mileage of 31 was awarded to Fenland Area Community Transport (FACT) by Cambridgeshire County Council for £302.54 per day, while another – with a live daily mileage of 3.7 – went to Huntingdonshire Area Community Transport for £72.02 per day.Both organisations operate under Section 19 permits. The latter tender was issued on an emergency basis for 12 months, nad then extended for a further 12 months. Other operators did not have chance to bid on both occasions.Meanwhile, evidence secured via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by CBCTA identifies a representative of as saying: “We hope to continue with our school contracts and hopefully take up more… These are not very profitable for FACT, but keep up our profile across the county.”The report points out that little profit is still profit, and asks with what the contracts’ profitability is being compared.Field not levelIf the report’s allegations are correct, they add weight to accusations that no level playing field exists between CTOs and businesses subject to the O-Licence regime.The report points out that FACT’s fleet has grown from 23 vehicles in 2011 to around 50 at present. According to FACT’s accounts, its fleet’s net worth rose by £170,848 in 2012 alone, despite grant and contract income being provided only to cover costs.The CBCTA alleges that money used to increase FACT’s fleet size came from profits earned from tendered operations, cross-subsidisation and fraudulent activity. An FoI request shows that there was no increase in FACT’s community activity to justify this rise.The waters are muddied further by FACT reporting its legitimately-operated group bookings as one figure combined with “commercial activity such as education contracts,” and thus it is impossible to establish how many group bookings were undertaken for community groups and non-profit organisations in 2013. FACT carried out just 230 group bookings in 2012.“It cannot be argued that by using grant funding to operate commercial contracts, revenue is raised to support FACT’s community-based activities,” says the report.“Advice from the Community Transport Association shows that this would be classed as operating with a view to profit, and that FACT would be legally required to set up a separate trading arm… to operate under the same licencing regime as any commercial company.”DfT’s guiding handWhen CBCTA asked Cambridgeshire County Council for evidence that grants had been used appropriately, the Council’s response was that it “has no specific requirements to know exactly how funds are spent.”This is contrary to guidance issued by the DfT to local authorities (LAs), which is clear on cross-subsidisation of commercial activities. LAs should ensure that no grants and revenues received by CTOs are used like this; if they are, it states, CTOs “would have an unfair competitive advantage” over commercial operators in tendering rounds.The guidance also states that CTOs should keep accounts allowing LAs to verify that grant money is not used in pursuit of activities other than community transport services.FACT does not do this, says CBCTA. While it separated commercial income in its 2013 accounts, it continued to mix the costs of its commercial and charitable undertakings, making it impossible to verify FACT’s costs and revenues of operating community transport services, although Cambridgeshire County Council has shown no wish to do so.At the time of writing, FACT had not submitted publishable accounts for 2014 despite them being eight months overdue, according to the Financial Conduct Authority.The legal viewCBCTA points out that CTOs undertaking tendered work do so at an advantage over businesses subject to the O-Licencing regime. CTOs are not bound by the same maintenance and regulatory requirements, and the crux of CBCTA’s complaint is that FACT and others CTOs in Cambridgeshire are undertaking profit-making work under Section 19 permits.Martin Allen, Director of the Bus and Coach Association, obtained legal advice on three regulatory arrangements concerning Section 19 permits (routeONE, Opinion, 13 April). It was provided by James Segan, a barrister with Blackstone Chambers in London.On the need for O-Licences among CTOs, Mr Segan says: “If a CTO is delivering a passenger transport service in return for a payment or other reward, and especially where it is doing so in a contestable market in competition with other undertakings, there is a strong argument that the CTO cannot be regarded as doing so ‘exclusively for non-commercial purposes’.”Cambridgeshire County Council has removed information from responses to FoI requests concerning CTOs in the county because “disclosure would be likely to prejudice [FACT’s] commercial interests.”“The absence of a profit motive is not decisive in this regard: An activity may be non-profit-making and yet still be commercial,” says Mr Segan.Mr Segan’s professional opinion is also that CTO drivers’ perceived exemption from requirements to hold category D1 licences and hold DCPC cards may also be in contravention of the law in most cases; that both are a legal requirement to carry out profit-making work is not disputed, but Mr Segan refers to not-for-profit operations.Wearing very thinThe dismissive attitude of some councils towards complaints that CTOs are operating contracts for profit gives little reassurance that CBCTA’s report, or the avenues being pursued by it and the BCA, will force change.Councils’ refusal to act is partly facilitated by the DVSA, which has elected not to pursue CTOs that breach Section 19 regulations. routeONE understands that this non-action is a result of guidance issued to the DVSA by the DfT, which appears to be contrary to information on the DfT’s website.Cambridgeshire County Council uses the DVSA’s reticence to justify its stance. Its view is that “it is acceptable for CTOs to have home-to-school contracts… The DVSA’s decision not to pursue the matter would appear to support our view, and we therefore see no reason at present to change our position,” it says.It adds that it “is aware of some potentially serious allegations regarding the misuse of grant funding,” and that while it has confidence in the diligence and propriety of its officers, “the information provided is currently under review to establish whether further action is warranted.”FACT disputes all the allegations made by CBCTA. In a statement, it says: “The allegations made about local CTOs, their officers, members and drivers in the report are refuted and unequivocally denied. It would be inappropriate to comment further while Cambridgeshire County Council undertakes a review of the allegations,” adding that it will assist with any inquiry.LAs’ insistence that CTOs performing contract work for no profit is not an unusual practice is wearing thin among operators who have suffered as a result. It is a scarcely-believable charade, and one that may have no basis in law, according to the legal advice taken by the BCA.At the time of writing there remain no answers to the key questions this insistence raises: Why would a CTO be interested in doing none-core work that does not benefit it or its members, and who believes that drivers will turn out early in the morning to do the work without being paid?Answers on a postcard to the DfT.Download the report and evidence at http://bit.ly/1SttDT6routeONE commentArguments surrounding CTOs, the legality of them undertaking so-called not-for-profit tendered work on Section 19 permits, payment of drivers and drivers’ requirement to hold DCPCs or category D1 licences have been around for a long time, and there is hope – albeit faint – that they will be settled one day.And there is a lot to be dealt with, as CBCTC’s report confirms. But the regulated industry wants only one thing: A fair playing field. Is that too much to ask the DfT, the DVSA and local authorities?The allegations in the report demonstrate that no longer can things be brushed under the carpet. Enough is enough. The powers that be should drop the kid gloves and deal with the matter once and for all.
Operators’ association claims that Cambs CC has a ‘casual indifference to potentially criminal acts’The Cambridgeshire Bus, Coach and Taxi Association (CBCTA) has escalated its dispute with Cambridgeshire County Council about community transport operators (CTOs) by making a formal complaint over the council’s handling of the matter.Complaint alleges ‘a casual indifference to potentially criminal acts’In the complaint – submitted on Monday (11 July) – CBCTA accuses the council of “demonstrating a casual indifference to potentially criminal activities that are directly putting at risk the safety of schoolchildren being transported under contracts awarded by the council.“This complaint concerns the legal requirements for CTOs to obtain an O-Licence, for drivers to hold a DCPC card, and for those drivers under the age of 37 to have undertaken category D1 training.These requirements are statutory and have been confirmed by a specialist barrister, the DVLA and Traffic Commissioner Kevin Rooney,” says CBCTA.“Such matters should be addressed as a matter of the utmost urgency. Yet despite the information being made available over two months ago… the evidence suggests that the council has not checked the licences of CTOs drivers, allowing them to continue committing offences that are criminal by nature.”It adds that the licences of drivers employed by commercial operators are checked prior to contracts being issued. CBCTA now demands that Cambridgeshire County Council checks all CTO drivers’ licences within five days.CBCTA alleges that the council’s failure to act thus far may be deliberate, “possibly to buy time for the offending organisations to remedy the gaps in the licencing arrangements while the alleged criminal behaviour is allowed to continue unchecked.“In essence, our complaint, confirmed by at least three sources, is that the Council is in breach of its fiduciary duty toward the public, apparently motivated by a desire to favour organisations with which it holds an unhealthily close relationship, and which benefit unfairly from commercial contracts awarded by the Council at the expense of commercial competitors.“We believe the Council has acted with reckless indifference to the comprehensive documentary evidence of several criminal offences presented to it, and that it is in breach of its own regulations,” says CBCTA.Last month, CBCTA petitioned Cambridgeshire Constabulary to re-open an investigation into allegations of illegal profit making while operating under the Section 19 permit system, and potential fraudulent fundraising practices, by Fenland Association for Community Transport.Cambridgeshire County Council earlier said that the issues around CBCTA’s original allegations were complex – something that CBCTA refutes – and that it was taking guidance from the DfT. After that is received, it added, it may take appropriate action.
London Blue Badge guide Alec Wilson has died. For many years a driver with several London and Hertfordshire coach operators, Alec trained as a guide in 1995, but “never forgot his days in the right-hand seat”, and always made tours a team effort.His funeral will take place at Greenacres Woodland burial site, North Weald, Essex at 1400hrs on 26 August.
The National Tramway Museum at Crich Tramway Village has been granted funding towards the renovation and improvement of the display of tramcar exhibits in permanent galleries and exhibition spaces.Glasgow trams in the depotThe Museum’s collections are one of the most comprehensive collections of tramcars and tramway history in the world and all the Museum’s collections are designated as being of national importance.The estimated total fund for the project is £400,000, but thanks to the DCMS/Wolfson Museums & Galleries Improvement Fund 2016-18, the project has taken a significant step forward as the National Tramway Museum has been offered funding of £100,000 towards the project for 2017-18.
GROUPS DIRECT have introduced their brand-new tour, The Kia Oval Tour & Afternoon Tour.Experience the atmosphere of the Kia Oval groundsThe Kia Oval is an international cricket ground in Kennington. The Oval has been the home ground of Surrey County Cricket Club since it was opened in 1845. Now, groups have the chance to step into the grounds and have a 90-minute tour.Groups can take a seat in the home dressing room and see where the captains of both Surrey and England prepare their team on match-days and indulge in afternoon tea in the member’s pavilion.Call 0800 049 8309 email [email protected] or visit www.groupsdirect.co.uk
McGill’s Buses’ order for 20 Mellor Strata LFs follows a smaller deliveryIn the largest order of the type to date, Mellor Coachcraft announced a deal with McGill’s Buses for 20 Strata LF minibuses at CBUK.Based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, the Strata LF is a coachbuilt product and the batch for McGill’s will follow a smaller number delivered for evaluation purposes earlier this year.“McGill’s was one of the first adopters of the Strata range and it has found that it not only meets its requirements but exceeds them, and those of its passengers,” says Mellor National Sales Manager Lorna Miller.“It is a tried and tested product for McGill’s, which is why it has turned to Mellor for this latest order.”The deal with McGill’s takes to over 50 the number of orders received for the Strata LF, but Mellor anticipates volumes reaching 100 per year in the long term, says MD John Randerson“The first Strata LFs with McGill’s have returned up to 20mpg in urban work.”Adds McGill’s MD Ralph Roberts: “The Strata LF ticks all the right boxes for us in terms of build quality, durability, fuel economy and the level of support we receive from Mellor. It doesn’t just sell minibuses and then forget about them.”www.mellor-coachcraft.co.uk
The Isle of Wight – A Guide For Groups looks at the Island’s many festivals, beaches, seaside towns, rural retreats, and places to stay.David Thornton, Outgoing Chief Executive at Visit Isle of Wight, says: “The new guide is the start of a marketing programme to raise the profile of the Island as a great groups destination.”
Many PCVs still recorded as ‘unknown’, says LowCVP, and are at risk of charge even if they are compliantOperators are urged to check that the Euro rating of vehicles is recordedOperators of vehicles that will be subject to London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) have been urged to check that their Euro rating has been marked on the V5 registration document to avoid them being incorrectly charged after 8 April.Data from the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership shows that a significant number of PCVs’ Euro rating is unknown by the authorities, leaving those vehicles liable to trigger a daily charge of £200.If the vehicle is Euro 6 compliant the charge can be contested and annulled, but the onus is on the operator to do so, says Transport for London (TfL) Principal Analyst – Environment Adam Moody.The level of ULEZ compliance among coaches will be lower than TfL anticipated when initial modelling was carried out. That will see a higher number of charges payable by the industry than originally anticipated.Speaking at last week’s launch of the LowCVP Coach Interest Group, Mr Moody adds that TfL will engage a European debt collection agency to pursue foreign-registered vehicles that do not meet ULEZ standards and which fail to pay the daily charge.He also confirmed that the scope of being able to pay the charge is open-ended, and that no date has been set by when reaching the mandated Euro level will be the only option.Mr Moody adds that plans are already being formulated for the stage beyond the ULEZ. It will see small zero-emission zones (ZEZs) in place on some roads and corridors. Where is not yet known, but it is expected that the first ZEZ will come into force in 2025.