A Scarborough coach company has been fined for running some of its bus services without a licence.
Shoreline Suncruiser Buses, which was vilified last year for its faulty vehicles, failed to re-register its services before the March 2016 deadline.
The family-run firm, which provides school runs and open-top tourist services, had already been dragged over the coals for a series of mechanical blunders which put the public at risk and resulted in the dismissal of its former transport manager Tom Stephenson.
On Thursday, the company, headed by former Scarborough magistrate Jack Stephenson, faced another public inquiry at the Leeds headquarters of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) for failing to re-register three of its services on time.
The inquiry, led by Traffic Commissioner Kevin Rooney, heard that the bus operator had become a new business under a slightly different name after having its old licence revoked in December 2015.
The bus operator became a new public-limited company following the removal of Mr Stephenson junior, the son of Jack Stephenson, from his management role late last year. The company vowed to introduce stricter safety checks and get its act together, but was mired in further controversy after continuing to run the three services in question - the 333, 555 and 777 - before the registered start date of March 20.
DVSA officer Ann Anderson, posing as a customer, boarded these services on March 4. She told the inquiry she asked for a £1 fare on the 10.02 service from York Place but was given a ticket with the wrong date on.
She then boarded the 10.42 double-decker journey to Scarborough Railway Station and asked for a 50p fare, but the driver told her he would only give her a ticket if she bought a £2 fare. On a third journey she said she was charged over £1 for a one-stop fare.
Company director Jack Stephenson - who was flanked by his wife Rosemary, also a director, and Shoreline’s new transport manager Adam Hughes at the hearing - said the driver in question had since been sacked and assured Mr Rooney there was a cheaper 50p fare on the 555 Filey service.
Mr Hughes - a former driver with the firm who re-joined the company as transport manager in November following the dismissal of his predecessor - said Shoreline had got the bus-maintenance services up to scratch by Christmas and made a belated application for the renewal of its licence late in January.
Mr Hughes claimed the company had not been formally notified that it had to re-register, adding: “It didn’t cross my mind that we were doing anything illegal at the time.”
Under current legislation, bus companies can run unregistered services only if they do not charge fares. The alternative is to make a short-term application to run services for up to 56 days until the registration deadline, but the company did not do so.
However, Mr Rooney said he fully accepted there was no unlawful intent by the company, its directors or transport manger and fined Shoreline a “modest” £650.
Mr Stephenson said he was “horrified” that his company had unwittingly broken the law while still claiming a bus-operators grant, adding: “I’m proud of this company but I’m not proud of the fact that I sit here today. I’ve tried all my life to put something back into the community.”
The former magistrate, who was made an MBE for his services to the community after setting up Shoreline 25 years ago, has endured a torrid past 12 months in which his company was called to give evidence about the death of one of its former mechanical contractors Neil Brown, 42, who died last year after being trapped under a Shoreline bus while carrying out repairs on one of its vehicles.
An inquest into Mr Brown’s death, held in April last year, heard that the bus did not have its handbrake on and fell off two wooden “chocks”. The vehicle rolled onto Mr Brown’s chest, causing fatal crushing injuries. Coroner Michael Oakley said the tragedy was preventable but recorded a verdict of accidental death, clearing the company of any blame.
In the wake of Mr Brown’s death, Tom Stephenson was disqualified from his post as transport manager after a DVSA fleet inspection at the company’s Stepney Rise depot found that every one of the eight vehicles examined was riddled with faults.