BUS operator Stagecoach Midlands will have to run a reduced fleet for a month after an inquiry following the death of two people in a Coventry bus crash.
It follows the tragedy in October 2015 when then 77-year-old driver Kailash Chander ploughed his double decker bus into Sainsbury’s supermarket on Trinity Street resulting in the death of seven-year-old Leamington schoolboy Rowan Fitzgerald, who was a passenger riding on the top deck, and 76-year-old Nuneaton pedestrian Dora Hancox.
The company was fined £2.3million after pleading guilty last year to two offences, contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act, by allowing Mr Chander to continue working despite warnings about his ‘shockingly bad driving’.
And following the company’s conviction transport commissioner Nicholas Denton called Stagecoach Midlands’ bosses to a public inquiry at the end of January.
That inquiry has resulted in Mr Denton deciding to limit the number of vehicles the firm can run from 261 to 200 between April 1 and April 29.
Mr Chander, who the court heard had mistook the accelerator for the brake, was found to have been driving the bus dangerously in a trial of the facts after being found medically unfit to actually stand trial.
The judge found the company’s failings fell into the ‘high culpability’ category, which included Mr Chander already having four minor crashes which had not resulted in his driving being assessed by the company.
The former Leamington mayor’s safety score was poor and flagged up issues with braking and cornering. He had also received eight letters from Stagecoach warning him about his driving in the 15 months from July 2014. Passengers had also complained about his driving.
The retired driver was employed on a casual basis and it was recommended he should avoid working too many days. His Leamington depot manager said he should be limited to a maximum of three days a week, but he regularly worked for more than 50 hours.
The message to not overburden Mr Chander was not passed on when he was seconded to the Rugby depot and he often worked more than 72 hours over seven days in the month preceding the crash.
While he was at Rugby there were several passenger complaints about time keeping and driving standard, and the depot manager emailed Leamington bosses suggesting they should stop using him. This was not read by anyone before the fatal crash due to staff absence.
At the public inquiry the company accepted its main error was that Leamington’s management had failed to monitor whether Mr Chander was being used only three times a week. Stagecoach bosses told the commissioner he had been turning up at the depot on a daily basis so it was easy for controllers to use him.
They also agreed Mr Chander should have been sent to its training school after his two previous crashes and that Rugby should have been made aware of limiting the amount of days he worked to three.
To prevent further incidents the company now reviews drivers over 70 years-old every six months rather than annually, instructions restricting working hours have been escalated, casual drivers no longer used, managers access emails via phone and senior management check data on a monthly basis.
Mr Denton said: “The company had been extremely upset by the incident and has sought to learn from it.
“The company in general had an excellent record concerning the standard of its maintenance and of its vehicles. It was accepted that several driver and training procedures had not been properly followed in Mr Chander’s case.
“It is clear to me from the evidence that the tragic incident was not the result of a one-off error by one person within the company, but of a series of errors, committed over time by several people at various levels within the company, and of a system which was not adequate to identify and address those errors before they had tragic consequences.
“As the judge concluded, the culpability of the company is very high. It would not be appropriate for me to make any different finding, nor would I wish to do so.”
Stagecoach Midlands says its services will continue to run as normal.
A spokesman said: “Our thoughts remain with everyone affected by this terrible incident and we fully accept the traffic commissioner’s decision. Safety is our priority and following the accident we have taken extensive steps to strengthen our safety processes to help ensure this kind of accident does not happen again.”