For safety and legal reasons you must maintain your minibus properly. Whether you own the vehicle outright or have one on a contract hire/lease arrangement, as the operator of the vehicle your organisation will be deemed legally responsible for its roadworthiness.
This requires planning. The Vehicle Operating Services Agency (VOSA) in its publication ‘Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness’ sets outs certain criteria which have to be met by minibus and bus operators. The Community Transport Association (CTA) recommends that a planned maintenance system should be in place to ensure that everyone concerned knows what their responsibilities are, and to allow remedial action to be taken when problems inevitably occur. In this article we put forward a strategy, incorporating VOSA principles, to help you adopt a position of best practice. In so doing we hope you will be exceeding legal requirements (which, at any rate, should only be viewed as an absolute minimum for acceptable practice).
The key elements that you need to consider in your minibus maintenance programme are as follows:
A Responsible Person The first step in ensuring vehicles are maintained properly is deciding who is responsible for this function. All too often schools/colleges take on minibus operation without appointing someone to ensure that the vehicle is correctly maintained and run. This tends to lead to situations where things are not done; services are missed, MOT checks are carried out late, and so on. You will see from the remainder of this article there are many items that require attention, and systems need to be put in place to achieve and monitor appropriate vehicle maintenance. Maintaining the vehicle properly does not necessarily mean employing a new member of staff, but somebody (be they paid or voluntary, new or existing) has to take responsibility.
Planning Vehicle Maintenance The saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ is not only true, it will save you time and money in the long run. A well thought out maintenance system which plans each element, should avoid unexpected delays and vehicle ‘down-time’. This, alone, has to be a good reason for getting it right.
A maintenance plan will consist of a number of key elements that can be planned in advance. It may well be a cliché to say that ‘prevention is better than cure’, but not only is it true in this case – it will save you time and money in the long run. This will have to be linked to your vehicle booking systems to ensure that your operation runs smoothly as a whole.
Some people use a diary; others use a wall chart or year planner. The important point at this stage is that all the planned maintenance functions must be booked in advance and the further in advance you can book them, the better.
A key decision we strongly advise is to organise your maintenance and servicing on a time-based as opposed to a mileage based system, as it makes maintenance planning much simpler. You should speak to your local maintenance and service agent, they will advise on appropriate time intervals.
The advantage of this system is that you can easily diary a whole year’s (or more) service appointments.
Many elements of the maintenance schedule can be planned on a time-based system. And this makes organising your use of the minibus for carrying pupils and students much easier. Daily Vehicle Checks Basic preventative vehicle maintenance should be carried out every day. Apart from any other considerations, individual drivers are legally responsible for the condition of certain items and equipment on the vehicle when it is on the road, so they should check them before driving off. Drivers should be trained in undertaking a daily ‘walk-around’ check and you should have a method of recording that it has been done.
You should have a clear, simple to operate, defect reporting system. Vehicle defects may be picked up during daily and weekly vehicle checks and in such cases, defect report forms should be available so that the exact nature of the fault can be recorded and communicated to the person who is responsible for maintenance. As well as the actual defect, the defect reporting system should record several decisions: who found the fault, who decided whether the vehicle was still roadworthy or not, what was done to rectify the fault and who undertook the work.
Vehicle Checks In addition to the daily checks mentioned above, more detailed weekly checks should be carried out. This is particularly important if you have many different drivers as it allows you to repeat the daily walk round check and thereby make a judgement as to whether or not daily checks are being carried out correctly. Additional checks should be carried out on any specialist equipment at this time. For example is the first aid kit fully stocked? Are the fire extinguishers still fully charged? Are the windows, light covers and number plates clean?
It may sound obvious, but it is amazing how often vehicles miss scheduled services. Of course you risk damage and/or increased repair costs if a competent mechanic does not regularly service your vehicle, but you can also void the vehicle warranty on newer vehicles if they are not serviced in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Unlike cars which need an MOT from when they are three years old, minibuses must have a valid MOT certificate after one year old. Most minibuses fall into one of two ‘MOT classes’. A minibus with up to 12 passenger seats is designated as a Class IV vehicle; a minibus with more than 12 passenger seats is designated as a Class V. The tests are different, so make sure you get the right one. Most local MOT inspection centres can carry out Class IV tests. However, only certain government designated testing stations can carry out Class V tests. A class VI test applies to minibuses operated under a PSV Operator’s licence.
Regular Safety Inspections These are different to your normal daily and weekly checks and are in addition to your MOT inspection. They are a detailed inspection of the vehicle, following which the competent mechanic/engineer certifies that the vehicle will maintain its roadworthiness until the next scheduled safety inspection. Most schools and colleges are operating their minibuses under the Section 19 permit regime and have obtained their permit from either the Community Transport Association or the office of the Traffic Commissioner and will have signed a S19 permit application form stating that regular safety inspections will be carried out. The required frequency of these inspections will vary depending on factors including the annual mileage covered. The ‘Guide To Maintaining Roadworthiness’ sets out how often the checks should be done for different types of road transport operation, under differing conditions. However, most school/college minibuses should consider having these checks done at intervals no greater than every ten weeks.
Recording And Reporting Vehicle Maintenance All S19 permit minibus operators should keep maintenance records for a period of at least 15 months. Copies of all defect reports, repairs undertaken, safety inspection reports, MOT reports and certificates, service history and any other records of work carried out on the vehicle should be retained and filed in a logical manner. VOSA enforcement officers have the powers to visit a minibus operator’s premises to ensure adequate maintenance arrangements are in place and if they are dissatisfied can refer you to the Traffic Commissioner. At a public inquiry the Traffic Commissioner has the power to revoke your S19 permit(s), without which you would no longer be able to operate your minibuses. Access Equipment If your school or college operate accessible minibuses adapted to transport disabled pupils and students you might not realise that maintenance and repairs have to be carried out to the wide range of items of specialist equipment on board, as well as to the vehicle itself. With ‘accessible’ minibuses, the following equipment should be subject to regular checks:
• Passenger lifts • Additional low-level steps (some of which can be powered) • Passenger restraint systems • Wheelchair clamps and webbing restraints • Seats and seat fixing mechanisms • Fire extinguishers • First aid kits • Supplementary heating and ventilation systems
Many of these can be checked by drivers/operators on a daily basis and, provided no defects are found, this will be sufficient. Others, however, require more work/planning.
Passenger lifts will require both regular servicing in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and weight testing (to ensure that they are capable of safely lifting the weight for which they are designed). The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) states that lifts must be inspected at least every six months and weight tested annually by a competent person. Following an inspection, a report must be issued to an appropriate person in your organisation to ensure that the relevant action can be taken to repair any faults or defects found. These inspection reports must be kept for a minimum of two years. Staff and Driver Training All the equipment and planning in the world will be of no benefit if it is not used properly. Staff and drivers need to be correctly trained in order to implement your minibus maintenance systems effectively. Training staff to use these systems is not a complicated task. The appropriate people need to have a basic technical ability (in order to carry out daily/weekly checks) and knowledge of how the reporting and recording systems should be operated
The consequences of failing to maintain a vehicle can range from inconvenient to very serious. Apart from unexpected delays and vehicle downtime, it may result in a serious injury or a fatal accident.
The CTA leaflet on Maintenance Schedules contains sample check lists/forms and can be downloaded from the CTA website. The ‘Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness’ can be downloaded from www.businesslink.gov.uk