QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT
B e f o r e :
|VEHICLE & OPERATOR SERVICES AGENCY||(CLAIMANT)|
|ALUN MARCUS JOHNSON||(DEFENDANT)|
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited
190 Fleet Street London EC4A 2AG
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
MR D HARRIS (instructed by Glass & Co, Swansea SA13 5ES) appeared on behalf of the DEFENDANT
Crown Copyright ©
"Were we right in finding that the stretch limousine registration MIL 2597 was not adapted to carry more than eight passengers and was therefore not a public service vehicle for the purposes of the statute and the regulations?"
"The following conditions shall as regards every passenger seat be complied with in the case of every vehicle ....
(b) a length of at least 400 mm measured horizontally along the front of each seat shall be allowed for the accommodation of a seated passenger."
In Traffic Commissioners for the South Wales Traffic Area v Snape and Another  RTR 367 the court held that consideration of suitability should take place against the standard seat width per passenger provided by the regulations. The court was concerned in Snape with the equivalent provisions of subsection 117(1) Road Traffic Act 1960 and the Public Service Vehicles (Conditions of Fitness, Equipment and Use) Regulations 1972, regulation 30 of which provided that a length of at least 1 ft 4 ins should be allowed for each passenger. In that case the seating available for passengers comprised three single seats and a bench seat 7 ft 4 ins in length. Subsection 117(1)(b) provided that a public service vehicle was a motor vehicle adapted to carry eight or more passengers. Since each single seat was suitable for one passenger, the question for the court was whether the side-facing bench seat was suitable for five passengers. Watkins LJ, delivering the leading judgment, said at page 372C of the report:
" .... the courts have been given further assistance in coming to a conclusion whether or not a vehicle is or is not 'adapted', in the sense in which the word is used in section 117. That assistance is derived from regulation 30(1)(b). That regulation now has to be read in conjunction with section 117 of the Road Traffic Act 1960. When those two provisions are taken together and the facts are, as they are in the instant case, that there are no factors to be considered other than the size of the seats, then, if there is sufficient room for eight passengers provided by the provision of seats of an individual nature or in bench form each measuring no less than 1 foot 4 inches, that vehicle, in my opinion, is 'adapted' -- providing its use is for hire or reward -- for use as a public service vehicle and so becomes and so must be treated for all relevant Regulations and Acts."
Since the bench seat could accommodate five passengers in line, each occupying 1 ft 4 ins of seat space, the total passenger capacity was eight and the minibus with which the court was then dealing was a public service vehicle.
"A tantalising problem has arisen with the emergence of the 'stretch limo'. These are often designed to provide generous accommodation but for no more than eight passengers. However, the generosity of the seating space allowed is such that far more than 400 mm is given for each seat. Seat belts may be provided for only eight passengers. The question arises as to whether this is a public service vehicle. It is submitted that the nature of the use to which the vehicle is put and the requirements regarding seat belts . . . combine to exclude such vehicles from the definition."
"After hearing the evidence and submissions we accepted the submissions made on behalf of Alun Marcus Johnson.
11. We concluded that although nine passengers were actually being carried in the vehicle when it was stopped that was only one factor to take into account when deciding whether the vehicle had been adapted to carry more than eight passengers.
12. The seating dimensions gave an indication of how many passengers the vehicle had been adapted to carry but we accepted that the seating space provided per passenger in a stretch limousine would be more generous than for other vehicles.
13. In normal use it was not practicable for this vehicle to carry a ninth passenger.
14. Having considered the design and layout of the vehicle and the use to which it was put we decided that the vehicle was not adapted to carry more than eight passengers.
15. We therefore found that vehicle registration mark MIL 2597, a stretch limousine, was not a public service vehicle and dismissed all three informations."
It does not seem to me that the justices gave undue weight to style. While they accepted that the seating space was intended to be more generous for a passenger in a stretch limousine than in a standard car or taxi, their decision was that in normal use it was not practicable for the vehicle to carry a ninth passenger. The vehicle was not designed and laid out to carry more than eight passengers. It seems to me that the justices' observation as to the generosity of seating was apt when one considers the natural compartments into which the bench seating was divided.