Police allege a tour bus driver stopped on Te Anau’s challenging State Highway 94 was not licensed to transport passengers and was using another driver’s licence and logbook.
The driver had previously been used as a tour guide for Alps Travel but he was switched into the driver’s seat for this tour that began from Christchurch six days before because the regular driver had a family emergency.
Police said at a Christchurch District Court trial that Alps Travel, which had offices in Ilam in Christchurch, and also in Queenstown and Auckland, knowingly arranged for the to take the tour group south from Christchurch and over the 940m high Te Anau Road.
The Department of Conservation’s website states: “The road, although tarsealed and maintained to state highway standards is nevertheless a challenging and, in places, narrow and winding drive. The scenery can be distracting – take your time, be aware of other road users and if you wish to enjoy the views pull over with plenty of warning.”
Police launched a series of prosecutions in September 2016, and two of those charged went on trial at a judge-alone trial before Judge David Saunders today.
The trial was told that Alps Travel no longer held a passenger services licence.
Evidence in the trial is expected to be heard all day on Monday, and then written or oral submissions on legal matters will be considered. It is not yet known when the judge’s verdicts may be delivered.
Defence counsel Nicola Hansen today said her client, the driver Suyan Qi, 22, pleaded guilty to charges of driving with an inappropriate licence, having a false logbook, and making false entries in the logbook. He denied a charge of dishonestly using a document – a driver’s licence.
For Xu Cao, 33, defence counsel Peter Doody said the two charges his client faced – causing a false statement to be made in a logbook and causing Qi to dishonestly use a driver’s licence to obtain a financial advantage – were denied.
Police prosecutor Aja Trinder said the joint operation involving the police and the New Zealand Travel Agency was carried out on State Highway 94 on February 11, 2016.
A bus driven by Qi and carrying passengers was stopped. He produced a driver’s licence with a passenger endorsement and a logbook in another driver’s name.
The licence appeared to have a different person’s picture, and the police witness said that when his wallet was checked, identification with his picture and a different name was found on a Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology identity card.
He admitted that it wasn’t his licence. In an interview 11 days later, he told the police “this job can make more money than my other job”.
Cao was the general manager of Alps Travel. He was interviewed by police and an NZTA official in April 2016. In his DVD interview, played to the trial, he said he had arranged for the driver who had “some emergency” to leave his licence and logbook in a tour bus for another driver to use. He knew that the other driver did not have a passenger endorsement, and he had contacted him to drive knowing that he did not have the correct licence.
Cao said: “I could not find another driver. There are not enough drivers here.”
Police said the joint operation had targeted all drivers on that highway, including buses, rental vehicles, and trucks. It was not particularly targeted at the Chinese New Year period when regular tour drivers may have been away on holiday.
The trial is continuing.