In a Section 19 Public Inquiry hearing heard last year (2023) the Traffic Commissioner highlighted again the importance of permit operators ensuring that their vehicles allow passengers and other road users to be safe, and that if an operator's vehicles fall below the required safety standards then there is a risk of their permits being revoked (permits were in fact revoked in this case).

What Does Section 19 Refer to?

Section 19 is the legislative provision in the Transport Act 1985 that provides for the use of Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) as they are defined in the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, using a "Section 19 Permit" when otherwise an operator's licence (whether Restricted or National) would be required.  On one view the obligations imposed upon operators that use vehicles under such a Permit are less onerous than the obligations imposed upon operator's who use vehicles under an operator's licence.

The PSVs operated under a Section 19 Permit must be used on a "not for profit" basis which requires careful analysis in each individual case.  Section 19 permits are frequently granted to charitable organisations that specialise in the provision of services to specific groups (schools being one example) where the transport services are used in connection with education, religion, social welfare or recreational activity that will benefit the community.

North Dorset Community Accessible Transport (NORDCAT) Case:

NORDCAT was involved in a home-to-school (H2S) contract which it serviced using a fleet of PSVs operated under the authority of permits (in doing so it avoided the need to obtain an operator's licence).

The Public Inquiry followed a DVSA maintenance investigation which revealed serious shortcomings in the maintenance regime which gave rise to obvious safety concerns in relation to the roadworthiness of the vehicles being used.  There was a high MOT failure rate and a range of other problems that were revealed by the maintenance documentation that NORDCAT provided to the Traffic Commissioner, but seemingly a failure to understand the significance of such (either that, or those responsible for the transport services did understand the issues but failed for whatever reason to do anything about them).

In addition to the maintenance issues the Traffic Commissioner also carried out an analysis of the commercial arrangements relevant to the issue of the permits to NORDCAT.  He found shortcomings here too.

The Traffic Commissioner stated that permit operators need to consider each one of the purposes for which they are providing road passenger transport services to ensure that they satisfy the legislative requirements that they must meet in order to be eligible to run vehicles under permits (rather than needing an operator's licence).  In summarising his approach to the regulation of permit operations the Traffic Commissioner stated "This is a permit operation.  That does not mean that the passengers and other road users do not deserve to be safe.  I cannot apply a lower standard for maintenance than I would for a PSV operation".

Community Transport Association Response:

Following the Public Inquiry, the Community Transport Association has reminded members and operators to prioritise "robust" maintenance programmes to ensure the safety and compliance of their vehicles on the road.

Are you Running Correctly under a Section 19 Permit?

This case highlights an area of the regulatory regime that is frequently abused, either intentionally or because the people involved do not understand what it is that they are required to do in order to ensure that their vehicles are operated lawfully and safely.

If you would like advice on whether you are eligible for a Section 19 Permit or if you hold one and wish to ensure that this is the correct permit/licence for your use, then get in touch now.  Pellys Transport & Regulatory Law is an expert in this area and can ensure that you and your organisation are running compliantly.  Call us on 01279 818280 or email by clicking here.  We are here to help.

(C) Richard Pelly, January 2024
Coach on Road

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