Senior Traffic Commissioner issues Statutory Document in response to COVID-19 outbreak

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Senior Traffic Commissioner (TC) Richard Turfitt has issued a Statutory Document which recognises the challenges that the HGV and PSV industries will face in the coming months and seeks to support it through flexible working practices and a proportionate approach.

It sets out the approach that TCs will adopt in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Great Britain, and provides guidance for and advice on:

    • Operators who temporarily cannot meet the required financial standing levels;
    • Operators when a transport manager is unable to attend work;
    • The period of grace process if the requirements to hold an operator’s licence cannot be met;
    • Operators who are unable to access their operating centres;
    • The approach to be taken when considering the financial evidence of an operator applying for interim authorisation;
    • How the TCs may approach applications for temporary exemptions to the requirement to hold an operator’s licence;
    • The approach to be adopted for short notice requests around changes to local bus services and reducing the administrative burden on operators, and;
    • Hearings attendance and the postponement of hearings.

The document acknowledges that it is not possible to envisage every situation which might occur during the outbreak, but it may extend from a temporary shortage of drivers or Transport Managers to the possible loss of access to an Operating Centre. It, therefore, sets out the TC’s position in relation to the application of legal discretions and consistent application of the regulatory requirements. The Department for Transport, it says, will decide what exemptions might apply to the application of commercial road transport rules such as drivers’ hours, and the TCs will retain their core focus on road safety, whilst recognising that there may be challenges for operators in meeting the operator licence requirements.

Senior TC Richard Turfitt

With regard to potential loss of access to Operating Centres, the document states that where a standard operator temporarily loses access to an Operating Centre as a result of restrictions imposed during the outbreak, TCs should give serious consideration to the grant of a Period of Grace. The Senior TC has set a starting point of four months Period of Grace for qualifying operators. That starting point is intended to allow an extension to the maximum period of six months should circumstances require that. A TC may wish to be satisfied as to where the vehicles will be parked in the alternative. It is recognised that during the period of the outbreak it may not be practicable to lodge an application for a new Operating Centre, which may only be required for temporary use.

ith regard to financial standing, the TCs will wish to be satisfied that the operator is not insolvent, there are no outstanding maintenance or other issues, which might impact on road safety, and that there is no attempt to avoid responsibility for alleged failures in compliance, but may, given the exceptional and short-term circumstances, rely on a previous satisfactory financial check which meets the newly prescribed sum, within the last 12 months, as evidence to support the granting of a Period of Grace.

In terms of ongoing professional competence, the document states that the TC may have to take a view on what is practicable in all the circumstances to meet the statutory duty. TCs would not normally expect to be notified of periods of short illness such as the general symptoms described in the current public health guidance, however where a person develops more acute symptoms, it may be necessary to grant a Period of Grace. Recognising the additional challenges of recruitment during the period of the outbreak, the starting point is again a four month Period of Grace for qualifying operators, with the ability to extend to the maximum period of six months should circumstances be deemed to require it.

Further guidance is given on the procedures in place around short notice dispensations and variations for bus services, and relating to community transport operations, as well as advice on attendance of hearings. The full document can be found on the gov.uk website.