ATG rescue sees NatEx using S19 permits

National Express Bus subsidiary, West Midlands Accessible Transport, has been running the former ATG services on Section 19 permits since rescuing them.

Traffic Commissioner Nick Denton took the unusual decision to issue the permits on a short-term basis to ensure that children in the West Midlands could get to school, following the financial collapse of ATG which revealed it had not performed DBS checks on staff and it had no records of vehicle safety checks.

In this week’s Bus and Coach Buyer, it is also revealed that ATG’s contract was extended several times, latterly with no paperwork, making the contract unenforceable and possibly illegal, says a council report. It ran 600 vehicles and employed around 800 staff, all of whom were paid but had no PCV licence.

West Midlands Accessible Transport Ltd – part of NatEx’s NEAT set-up – has been retraining ATG drivers and new recruits to PCV standard since August and has applied for an O licence to cover all the former ATG minibus services and its Ring and Ride services. The Section 19 permits expire on 3 April.

In an exclusive statement to Bus and Coach Buyer, TC Nick Denton said: “Whether the services rendered by West Midlands Accessible Transport are commercial could be argued either way, so I have granted them a temporary section 19 permit to continue running school buses while their drivers get their CPC and their standard national operator’s licence application is processed.

“This was a pragmatic decision I took in the interests of thousands of vulnerable children who would otherwise have been either unable to travel to school in suitable vehicles or unable to travel to school at all.”  Nick Denton, Traffic Commissioner

He told B&CB that he considered that, because neither Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) nor Birmingham City Council (BCC) had received any other bid to take over ATG’s services, there was a case to consider them as non-commercial (and therefore exempt from EC Regulation 1071/2009). The services could also be considered as being covered by the short distance exemption of less than ten miles from first pick-up point to last set-down point.

Mr Denton says he made the Section 19 permits only temporary because he recognises that an arguable case can be put forward that these are commercial services and that an operator’s licence might be required. An operator’s licence, with the higher regulatory standards that come with it, is in any case desirable.

He says that, if he had refused Section 19 permits last August, WMAT would not have been able to run services under an operator’s licence because they needed several months to put several hundred drivers through driver CPC (which ATG drivers did not have) and otherwise bring standards up to those of a commercial operator.

West Midlands Accessible Transport has applied for an O licence for 560 vehicles.

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