Tuesday, 5 April 2016

TC: get compliant or get out of industry . . .

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TC: get compliant or get out of industry

Cited at: http://transportoperator.co.uk/2015/11/04/tc-get-compliant-or-get-out-of-industry/


Operators and drivers who fall foul of DVSA are likely to have to give an account of themselves to their area’s traffic commissioner (TC), and some valuable insight into the mindset of the TCs was given at the recent FTA Transport Manager Conference by Nick Jones, who is TC for both the West Midlands and Welsh traffic areas.

In the opening keynote speech, he explained that his role was to concentrate on those operators and drivers who pose the greatest risk to road safety, and force them either into compliance, or out of the industry altogether.

He explained that the work of the traffic commissioners was funded from operator licence fees paid by both the freight and passenger sector.

“The goods vehicle operators effectively subsidise the passenger sector in their funding of the TCs,” he said, pointing out that while PCVs made up just 10 per cent of the totality of large passenger and heavy goods vehicles on the roads, the supervision and regulation of the passenger sector absorbed about 30-40 per cent of the TCs’ total workload.

Much of this work was the regulation of bus services.

“TCs are not very good at this,” he opined, pointing out that there was no bilingual facility for this in the Welsh Traffic Area and therefore it was not actually legally compliant!

Bus operations were also problematic in his other area, the West Midlands – particularly where smaller vehicles run by taxi companies on restricted licences were concerned.

“The licence discs are often loaned from one operator to another, even though this is an offence that will destroy the operator’s good repute. In Birmingham there are wholesale breaches of the law in this respect with taxi operators renting out their discs. These are not isolated incidents; it’s a widespread practice.”

His suggested solution was that TCs should only have jurisdiction over the operation of vehicles with more than 16 passenger seats, with smaller minibuses being licenced by the local authority as taxis were.

“This would allow TCs to deal effectively with larger vehicles,” he said.

An alternative solution might be to abolish the paper licence discs in favour of online licensing, as had already happened with road tax.

Another reform he suggested was to end the need to advertise the opening of or changes to operating centres.

“Who reads local papers? We know that some operators will choose a particular paper because it has a low circulation. Why not just put a notice on the gate, as you have to with planning applications?”

He pointed out a further anomaly in the law: TCs had no jurisdiction over the environmental impact of PCV operating centres, while they did over freight. He recounted one incident where local residents had complained to him about noise from a premises that was shared by both freight and passenger operators.

It turned out that the nuisance was being caused by a bus operator and he could do nothing about it, while he could have curtailed the offending activity had it been a freight operation.

Mr Jones thought that local planning authorities would be better placed to deal with environmental issues, while traffic commissioners should retain responsibility for road safety and access.

He defended the level of service offered by the Traffic Office in Leeds to operator licence applicants, while admitting that turnaround times were too slow.

“80 per cent of applications are received incomplete and applicants are being given feedback on how to complete the applications properly rather than just having the application bounced back. This causes delays,” he said.

“The present IT system in use in Leeds is very out of date and is being changed. The new system will gatekeep to prevent incomplete applications from being proceeded with. It will also interlink with IT systems in other government offices: for example, with Companies House to verify directors’ details.”

Although the decision on whether to grant a licence or not ultimately lay with the traffic commissioner, much of the process was delegated by the TCs to staff in the Leeds office. Mr Jones said he had full legal responsibility for their decisions but didn’t have management responsibility for their activity.

One area of concern was whether the appointed transport manager actually had the degree of operational control over the applicant’s transport activities that was required. Staff in the Leeds office had a table of scales showing the number of hours a transport manager was expected to work for the number of vehicles in the fleet.

“These tables are guidelines not tramlines, but this is not always acknowledged by those using them,” he admitted.

“We need to look more closely at the transport manager’s performance: how legal is the fleet? Rather than just how many vehicles are in operation, how many hours does the transport manager work for the operator in question and how far does the transport manager live from the operator?

“However, I am still seeing transport managers before me at public inquiry who are obviously little more than managers in name only.

“So we are now looking more at the effectiveness of the transport manager in running a legal fleet than the scale of the operation. We acknowledge that transport managers in larger outfits will have a team working for them and we understand that some compliance checks can now be made remotely.”

The use of independent transport managers appointed by consultant agencies across a number of companies was a continuing concern.

“Traffic commissioners are unhappy when a consultancy appears to have a relationship with an operator, but the transport manager appointed by the consultancy does not,” he said.

Mr Jones admitted that there had been a reduction in DVSA enforcement activity across Great Britain as resources had been diverted to the Next Generation Enforcement project.

“It has dried up in Wales altogether, but this situation is changing because more DVSA inspectors are now being recruited. There will be few Public Inquiries in Wales this year because of the introduction of Next Generation Enforcement, but this will change next year,” he warned.

Besides supervising the activities of operators, TCs were also responsible for driver conduct regulation, and the penalties that they could impose were severe in impact.

“A driver who uses another driver’s digital tachograph card will be off the road for 12 months,” Mr Jones warned.

Using a hand-held mobile when driving was also an offence that the TCs viewed very seriously and they would impose sanctions on professional drivers caught doing this in addition to any fixed penalty or magistrates’ court fine.

“We also differentiate between using a mobile in a private car and in a truck. We are requesting that a new licence endorsement be introduced (CU81) for mobile phone offences in a large vehicle rather than a car (CU80).”

Mr Jones was concerned that many professional drivers were unaware of the power that Traffic Commissioners held over their professional lives.

“I can disqualify a driver from truck and bus driving indefinitely, but there’s no mechanism for publishing this decision, while there is for action taken against operator licences.”

Mr Jones also felt that TCs would be better placed for making decisions about medical fitness to drive than the magistrates who currently handled this.

“Appeals against disqualifications on medical grounds go to magistrates and not TCs – why? Most magistrates may only encounter one such case in their entire time on the bench… TCs would be far better equipped to decide such matters.”

He concluded with the ‘TC’s top tips for TMs’: areas on which transport managers should focus their efforts to ensure compliance
  1. The absent TM: transport managers had to be in effective control, ensuring that their fleets were run legally
  2. Driver detectable defects: were they being picked up by drivers doing daily checks, or only being found during workshop inspections?
  3. Preventative maintenance inspections: were they being competently carried out, acted upon and documented?
  4. Annual tests: was the operator being informed of failures? An eventual pass after retesting would still impact on the OCRS score
  5. Drivers’ vocational entitlements: how often were licences checked? Were drivers entitled to be at the wheel of their vehicles?
  6. Keeping up-to-date: transport legislation was subject to change. The TM had a duty to keep up with changes.



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