26.12.2006

Company Suspended in Manchester accident

The company that owns and operates the bus that hit a boom lift in Manchester on November 1 killing its operator has been ordered to park up its bus fleet.

The bus companies concerned are UK North and GM Buses Ltd, one of the biggest bus companies in Manchester

The two companies have been ordered to suspend their fleets because of concerns about vehicle safety and whether its mainly Polish drivers have a good enough command of English to understand road signs.

Beverley Bell, the North Western traffic commissioner, ordered the company to keep its 74-bus fleet in the garage, Bell said that she took the action to “ensure road safety during the festive period”.

She is critical of the way that the company’s drivers are assessed and trained. Around 100 of its 130 drivers are Polish and many of them are said to have a poor understanding of the English language.

She concluded that the drivers who had been recruited from Eastern Europe were learning on the job, using “real roads, real people and real vehicles” to practice their driving skills.

The suspension will continue until January 2 when the inquiry into the company’s fitness to operate will continue. Concern has been expressed about a number of incidents in addition to the fatality, including one in October when a bus had its roof ripped off after it crashed into a bridge.

In that case the driver was apparently lost and went the wrong way down a one-way street because he did not understand several warning signs.

Inspectors from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency and police visited the company’s headquarters after the platform operator’s death. They inspected 28 buses, and issued 16 prohibition notices for defects, including faulty brakes, steering and suspension.

Documents were seized during further raids on the bus garage and the home of the company director, Vincenzo Casale. They highlighted concerns over alleged excessive hours that the drivers had been working and disclosed that the company had been issued with 34 notices of intended prosecution by police in the seven months leading up to the inquiry.

Casale and his brother, Ernesto, also a director, gave evidence in the company’s defence. They claimed that its training programme was robust and that each driver was assessed and trained individually. Ernesto Casale promised to bring in external driving assessors and his brother pledged to ensure that each driver had a minimum of five days’ training.

The driver involved in the fatal accident, an employee of UK North was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving and was then released on bail.

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