School minibus suspended near Pontypool in safety probe
1:04pm Wednesday 15th January 2014 in Pontypool news
A MINIBUS taking children to school near Pontypool has been suspended while the council investigates parents' safety fears over doors and seatbelts.
The Pantygasseg to Abersychan School route, which until last week was run by New Inn-based Murray's Minibus Hire, has been handed to another company while Torfaen council looks into claims that children had to climb over the driver's seat to get out of the bus, as not all doors would open.
Complaints by the company that children were not wearing their seatbelts were met with counter-claims from parents that not all of the seatbelts on the bus work, explained one Pantygasseg parent, who wished to remain anonymous.
"We reported the bus seatbelts and doors to the police before Christmas," she said. "Last Monday the bus turned up again and we complained to Torfaen council through Pat Harris of BUSK.
"But on Tuesday it turned up again. I got footage of the driver asking a child to open the bus door from the inside and they couldn't do it. I removed the children from the bus and they went to school in cars."
A different bus dropped the children home from school, she said.
Mrs Harris, director of the non-for-profit company BUSK, which offers safety advice regarding coach and bus travel, told us she contacted the office of Nick Jones, Traffic Commissioner for Wales, and Gwent Police with concerns that the minibus breached safety regulations.
But Murray Jones, owner of Murray's Mini Bus Hire, said: "The problem with the door was that the teenagers would play a game as to how hard they could shut the door and the door locks itself because they slammed it so hard.
"Our buses are checked regularly for safety and maintenance. Previous operators worked that route and gave it back to Torfaen council."
There is a legal requirement for companies to check that all seatbelts and doors work on a school service before the vehicle goes out, said Mrs Harris, and a statutory obligation for Torfaen council to provide safe transport.
A Torfaen council spokesman said: "We are investigating the concerns raised and can confirm that due to their nature we have suspended the current arrangements until further notice and are providing alternative transport."
The matter was reported to the Traffic Commissioner's office, who referred it to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), formerly VOSA, who check vehicle and driver standards, for an investigation.
A spokesman for the Traffic Commissioner's said this was carried out and the matter has now been referred back to the commissioner's office.
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