For many years the Traffic Commissioners (TCs) for Great Britain have carried out an important role as independent regulators of the goods vehicle and public service vehicle industries, as well as their professional drivers.
In their annual report 2002/23, published last month, the TCs – Sarah Bell, Tim Blackmore, Miles Dorrington, Gerallt Evans, Kevin Rooney, Richard Turfitt, Claire Gilmore and Victoria Davies – outlined how they have helped to improve standards by holding regulatory and driver conduct hearings, and also educated and communicated with the industry about the value of compliance and the licensing regime.
The report contains statistics describing the licensing and regulatory activities including 14,133 operator licence applications and variations processed; 13,747 local bus registrations processed; 1347 public inquiries determined and 15,167 vocational driver cases closed.
In it, the TCs say that there are rarely any single-issue hearings at Public Inquiries, but that most regulatory proceedings stem from a failure to manage effectively, often where directors, senior managers, those at the top of businesses, lose sight of the need to monitor and manage compliance with the operator licence requirements.
“We can all appreciate the pressures on businesses as costs rise and margins are squeezed, but that puts the very existence of a transport business at risk from loss of the operator’s licence”, the report said.
“That means that those in charge need to develop management systems (key performance indicators) to manage that risk. They should know their businesses best but there are a lot of resources available for assistance.”
Resources for support
The report provides examples of such resources – for example Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA’s) targeting tool, the Operator Compliance Risk Score (OCRS), that gives an indication of any adverse events such as failed annual tests or roadside encounters.
However, according to the TCs, responsible operators must ensure compliance before any encounter with the enforcement authorities, using information and alerts to help them identify and manage the risks.
A good example of this is DVSA’s recent guidance on the top ten prohibited defects: direction indicators, tyre tread and condition, stop lamps, spray suppression, cracked windscreens, service brakes, registration lamps, parking brakes, and wheel nuts.
The report added: “Running a transport business should involve a high degree of intelligence and sophistication. That needs to be reflected in the management reporting and oversight. These measures should also equip senior managers to deal with incidents when things go wrong. It would also result in far fewer Public Inquiries, so we offer that challenge to the industry and its representatives.”
Out on the road
TC for Wales, Victoria Davies, stressed the importance of commissioners going out and meeting industry stakeholders in person.
In the past year she has attended Road Haulage Association (RHA) seminars in North and South Wales, the Logistics UK Transport Managers’ conference, the Optimised Waste and Logistics conference in Cardiff, meetings of the Wales Road Transport Advisory Group, an HGV operator in Newport (facilitated by the RHA) and the Women in Transport Wales Hub at the Senedd.
She said: “The pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we all work, and I have continued to engage with some stakeholders virtually this year where that has been the most efficient and effective means.
“However, there is no substitute for meeting face to face with those I regulate and other stakeholders, which is key to my role of educating industry and supporting compliant operators.”
On a different topic, the TCs say the impact of driver shortages is still being seen at Public Inquiry but that the match funding scheme launched by the Department for Transport (DfT) to help improve truck stop facilities is a welcome development.
TC for Scotland, Claire Gilmore said: “The shadow of the pandemic and many of the pressures which that brought for operators are now well behind us. However, some of the challenges posed by the ‘new normal’ are still being felt across our industries, most notably with the continued shortage of vocational drivers.”
The TCs also believe the availability of timely and good maintenance is in short supply, and, like their report last year, note the potential advantages in the introduction of a maintenance qualification to responsible operators.
“Many maintenance providers are struggling to find qualified mechanics and fitters. For many reasons, providers are also struggling to source spare parts for many vehicles,” the report stated.
The TCs add that the upcoming consultation on autonomous vehicles will not provide an immediate answer to the challenges facing transport businesses and a high degree of certainty will be required if those companies are to invest.
They said: “The complexity of those vehicles and the change in operations will only add to the demand for highly skilled maintenance staff.
“We also need to get ahead of the curve and consider what will be needed from us as regulators as more of our operators consider autonomous and alternative fuelled vehicles.”
Also, the TCs say they have been pleased to see the change to the transport manager CPC exams which place increased focus on transport manager responsibilities in the real world.
However, from experiences at public inquiries, they say they retain some concern at the weighting given to driver scheduling and vehicle costing in the case study which forms part of the exams.
The TCs said: “We have often commented, and we do so again, but there is a difference between obtaining a paper qualification and the ability to actually exercise effective and continuous management of a transport operation which is the statutory requirement of a transport manager.
“We would suggest therefore that more emphasis should be placed on actual compliance and safety.”
Meanwhile, the report mentions the recent Government review of the functions of the TCs, which found compelling evidence in support of their work.
The consultation concluded that TCs undertake an important function on behalf of the DfT, contributing directly to improving transport for the user by promoting the safe operation of heavy vehicles and buses on the roads and growing the economy by supporting transport operators to keep goods and passengers moving.
It was found that the TC function generally operates effectively and meets the standards of service for the transport industry.
Senior Traffic Commissioner Richard Turfitt said: “It is a privilege to serve the communities of Great Britain and to make this contribution to the safety of road users.
“The Minister’s commendation in the recent review of the Traffic Commissioners, the staff in the OTC, and our delivery partners is most welcome.
“It recognises the hard work over the course of the last three years and that we continue to work on strengthening the delivery of services, and the willingness of my colleagues to improve outcomes for the industry and the public.”