A troubling situation at a local school has recently come to something of a head, which will hopefully lead to some enforcement action being taken. As there may well be legal action being taken, details in this post will be rather sketchy.
Outside of the urban sprawl, regular drivers of school coaches get to recognise the regular drivers and operators of minibuses and taxis. We tend to pass the same people in similar places each day. Around 18 months ago, it became apparent that a new minibus had appeared running to a local secondary school. A few glances around the vehicle made it apparent that it was carrying no operators disc, nor any legal lettering.
Shortly in to the 2016/17 academic year, a second minibus appeared. Shortly after, the driver of the first minibus started being a bit chatty on a few afternoons. He apparently owns the vehicle and it had “paid for itself” within a few months of starting this new journey to the school. He also apparently takes groups of football fans to away fixtures and on cider tours, although this he has to “careful” to keep to the same group of people in order that it “doesn’t look like a hire”. He revealed that the children being carried on the minibuses are from an area which is already served by a licenced operator, providing travel to the school with available capacity.
Despite a fair bit of digging, nobody has been able to ascertain how the services of the minibus were procured through the parents, the closest that has been found is the suggestion that it was organised through Facebook, although possibly on a secret group as no evidence has yet been turned up.
Earlier this week, enforcement staff from DVSA arrived at the school and were clearly not interested in larger buses or coaches. They were keen to talk to drivers of 16 seat vehicles, check their Driver CPC cards and question the ownership and licencing of their vehicles.
Later in the week, a local coach operator received an enquiry from a representative of “a group of parents” who were desperate for a 33 seat coach as a result of “increased demand”. from the same area. “Increased demand” is an odd thing to happen during the summer term when student numbers are generally in decline as older students leave following exams.
I wonder how the group of parents would react to the facts that their children have been transported to school illegally, in an uninsured, unlicenced vehicle. A vehicle with a driver who may well not hold an appropriate licence nor training to carry out commercial work and with none of the background checking and safeguards that the local authority insist licenced operators must comply with.
In this era of stringent regulation of licenced operators, there needs to be a zero tolerance approach to those working entirely outside of regulation. In my opinion, it is also time to start prosecuting those who employ the services of unlicenced vehicles as they are effectively funding criminal activity.