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Coach firm facing drivers' hours rap; Offences not a threat to safety, insists boss.

Byline: Rhodri Clark

A COACH firm featured in a fly-on-the-wall TV documentary faces disciplinary action at a public inquiry.

The Traffic Commissioner for Wales - the official who licenses bus and coach operators - will consider the "repute" of the managers of Ferris Holidays, in Nantgarw, after the inquiry in Cardiff on July 20 and 21.

The automatic penalty for loss of repute would be to revoke Ferris' operating licence.

But company director Jason Ferris says he is confident this will not happen. The offences to be considered at the inquiry were technicalities that did not threaten safety, he claims.

In 2004, BBC Wales broadcast a six-part documentary showing how Ferris Holidays transports 40,000 holidaymakers each summer to Spain's Costa Brava and back.

The Abta-registered coach firm, established in 1981, has also taken thousands of people to Disneyland Paris, Alton Towers, Blackpool and other popular destinations.

But the company was taken to court last October by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (Vosa) for "severe drivers' hours offences".

Ferris Holidays and its 18 drivers pleaded guilty to 57 offences over two months.

In November, Ferris was fined pounds 51,000 and had to pay Vosa's costs. The 18 drivers were fined pounds 8,325 in total.

Alex Fiddes, Vosa's chief operating officer, said: "This case highlights Vosa's determination to target non-compliant operators and drivers who impose a risk on road safety."

Ferris later failed in an appeal against the fines.

This month's public inquiry relates to the same offences. The Traffic Commissioner will consider whether to take disciplinary action under the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, and consider "transport managers' repute" under the same Act.

A spokeswoman for the Traffic Commissioner told the Echo: "If an operator is found to have lost its repute it will lose its operating licence."

Company director Jason Ferris said he hoped the official taking the public inquiry would be lenient.

"What happened was bad," he said. "But none of those drivers drove over their hours."

He claimed drivers had only failed to record their actions.

"A driver would ring from Reading services and say: 'I won't be able to do all my drop-offs before my hours are up.' We would send a driver out. Those drivers should have marked their charts [to record what happened], but they didn't."

Ferris always used two drivers for Continental journeys. Its long-distance coaches had a bunk where one driver slept while the other drove, although bunks were not required by law, he said.

"We paid the fine. The drivers have paid the fine. The public inquiry brings it all up again," he said.

The fine had not deterred regular customers from travelling with Ferris this year. Spanish holiday bookings were about 6,000 down this year, but Mr Ferris said the recession was having an effect.

"The people can see what we do. The drivers are all the same drivers.

"We haven't had a bad accident in all the years we've been going to the Costa Brava, since 1981."

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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 1, 2009
Words:505
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