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Annual Report Highlights Repeated Themes at Public Inquiries

An early Christmas present was given to the haulage industry by the Traffic Commissioners just before festivities began, with the publication of their annual report.

It’s always useful to discover what has been preying on the minds of the men and women tasked with ensuring haulage is a safe, fair and efficient industry and who remain steadfast in showing the cowboys an extreme close-up of the saloon doors.

Turns out that there is a barely concealed frustration among the TCs at the same old reasons operators are appearing before them at public inquiries.

And it’s not difficult to see why they are exasperated; sadly, we’re talking about the basics here.

The safety and licensing issues that “frequently” crop up time and time again are listed as a failure to:

  • Download driver cards and vehicle unit data and compare them
  • Use up to date safety inspection paperwork
  • Notify material changes
  • Demonstrate effective brake testing
  • Carry out regular driver licence checks

The former senior TC Beverley Bell probably snapped the lead in her pencil when she wrote: “Alarmingly, far too many operators still have little idea of what useful reports the sophisticated software systems they have purchased are able to deliver.”

The West Midlands TC Nick Denton was similar unimpressed, listing many of the same issues raised by Bell and tossing in “[using] the hardware and software to identify driver’s hours infringements but don’t feel it necessary to do anything about the infringements” for good measure.

It’s easy to see why all of this is annoying to them. Not only are these issues straightforward to address, but they are also taking the TCs’ time away from the “serially and seriously non-compliant” operators that they and the DVSA have been banging on about for the last few years.

Perhaps repeatedly failing to download driver card data makes you serially non-compliant, but it doesn’t necessarily make you seriously non-compliant and so you may not be the sort of rogue operator the DVSA wants to tackle.

It’s all a bit too similar to the people with a bad cold who turn up at A+E and then wonder why the underfunded NHS is struggling to cope.

Fairy Tale Ending

In fact, in her last foreword before her retirement, Bell explicitly referred to the issue of money, pointing out that quick, strong action against errant operators can only be taken if the TCs are properly funded.

Referring to the very low cost of licence fees, she said:

“The initial licence application and grant fees for a goods licence total £651 with a continuation fee of £401 every five years, meaning that the annual cost of a licence is less than £100.

“A cursory look at the fees of some other regulators will show just how low and disproportionate operator licence fees are – and they have been for far too long.

“There is good reason why operator licensing is known as the ‘Cinderella service’ of regulators.”

In our view though, most operators would be more than willing to pay more for their operator’s licence if it meant they got a better service.

Frustrated Traffic Commissioners