The danger of using self-employed drivers and need for control of route planning by transport managers has been brought into sharp focus after an operator had its O-Licence revoked and transport manager banned, after a bridge strike.
The decision about Skelmersdale-based Bridgestep, and its transport manager Tom Bridge, was made by Traffic Commissioner Simon Evans after a Public Inquiry in July 2019.
The firm lodged an appeal, but now the Upper Tribunal has ruled that the firm must be shut down and Mr Bridge banned from acting as a TM.
The case was brought after a driver took a wrong turning and struck a 4.4m/14ft 9in railway bridge outside Stockport on 18 January 2019.
The bridge bash - which happened at 1515hrs - caused major traffic congestion during the evening ‘rush hour’, while Northern Railway’s trains on a key route out of Manchester were initially cancelled while the bridge was inspected, and later had to run at slow speed, causing delays of 30 minutes . Rail services did not return to normal until four hours later, around 1900hrs
The PI heard that all the company’s drivers were classed as ’self-employed’ - in breach of HMRC rules - and the TC said that, as a result, Mr Bridge had no authority to give drivers instructions on which route they should take.
In mitigation Mr Bridge said the firm was in the process of moving the self-employed drivers onto full-time contracts, but the TC said the arrangement, which is against advice from HMRC, demonstrated “a seriously faulty or cavalier approach to business” and as a result led to the bridge strike.
In its appeal, the firm argued that the TC did not give any notice of the possibility that adverse findings might be made about responsibility for route planning being “abrogated” by the operator to its drivers. It made the same complaint about the TC’s approach to the issue of the drivers’ self-employment.
Bridgestep told the appeal tribunal that if the TC had have raised that point, it would have sought an adjournment so that it could produce further evidence.
While Judge Beech said that the appeal tribunal agreed that the firm and Mr Bridge should have been given an opportunity to address the issues that arose at the PI, she added that this was a ‘bad case’ and upheld the TC’s decision.