3PB’s Cotter wins critical appeal for Bristol bus business against traffic commissioner

Independent bus operator Abus - which runs bus services in Bristol, Bath, North Somerset and further afield - turned to 3PB’s public and regulatory barrister Nick Cotter when the business faced possible suspension of its licence and closure of the business.

Abus’ boss Alan Peters appealed the ruling from the Traffic Commissioner who controls and polices bus and haulage firm licences. The Traffic Commissioner Kevin Rooney had earlier held a public inquiry into the management arrangements of Abus, which is based in Bristol and has been run by Mr Peters for 27 years. This looked into the arrangements between Abus and his partner company Mundens, which is also based at the depot near Bristol Temple Meads Station; and raised questions about who was actually in charge, who should have the bus operator licence given that some aspects of the licence held by Abus were out of its control - employment of the drivers, for example.

The appeal found in Abus’ favour – ruling that the key Section 81 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 provides that “the bus operator is the person for whom the driver “works” either under a contract of employment or any other description of contract personally to do work.” The appeal also ruled that “Works” is not further defined in the 1981 Act and should be given its natural and ordinary meaning. A person can do work for someone without necessarily being employed by that person under an express or implied contract of employment.”

The tribunal ruled that as the drivers were “working” for Abus, Abus was the operator of the vehicles driven by the Mundens’ drivers. There has not been a material change of circumstances in terms of section 17(3)(e) of the 1981 Act, and the appeal concluded “We agree that the traffic commissioner erred by holding that the purpose of section 81 was to establish control between the operator and the driver, by focussing on the  question of control and by relying on the terms of the written material.  This led to an erroneous result which must be set aside".

Mr Peters said: “For 27 years, and three different Traffic Commissioners, no one has ever raised this as an issue before. This is why we appealed.” 3PB barrister Nick Cotter said “Abus buses maintained their services, pending this appeal, so can now continue to operate now without the threat and fear of losing their licence and closing down. Common sense and a fair view of our transport licensing laws prevailed.”

To read the full judgement from the Upper Tribunal, Administrative Appeals, please click here.