TCs look to the future in annual report

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With the country and the industries they regulate facing the longer-term impact of the pandemic, the annual report by the Traffic Commissioners (TCs) for Great Britain highlights how the TCs have dealt with the prevailing situation and what needs to be done as the industry moves forward. In the report, Traffic Commisioners for England Sarah Bell, Tim Blackmore, Nick Denton, Gerallt Evans, Kevin Rooney, Richard Turfitt, along with Scottish and Welsh conterparts Claire Gilmore and Victoria Davies, acknowledge that businesses face a number of evolving challenges, and say they have worked hard to ensure that service users have been given the support and advice they require so that they continue to provide safe and effective transport services for the benefit of the country.

“We continue to explore how the service can be improved further and to support economic recovery, but progress has been made towards the target for determining applications within 35 working days from receipt. This is despite the receipt of a higher-than-average number of applications, during the course of the year,” the report notes. The number of cases coming before TCs at public inquiry has also returned to pre-pandemic volumes.

The TCs also paid tribute to Nick Denton, who retired as a Traffic Commissioner in May. “His skills and considerable contribution to the jurisdiction will be difficult to replace. The West Midlands needs a dedicated traffic commissioner so we hope that an expedited recruitment campaign will find a worthy successor,” they said.

The report notes that there are currently 1.57 million people employed in passenger and goods transport and storage, with 6,158 valid PSV operator licences and 88,582 passenger vehicles authorised. During the year, 15,748 operator licence applications and variations were processed, and 14,551 local bus registrations. In addition, 1,392 public inquiries were determined, 309 preliminary hearings held and 13,654 vocational driver cases closed.

The TCs noted that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has continued to dominate their work during the last 12 months. Within the past year, the TCs have established a social media presence to offer an extra way to reach those who are not currently engaged, which they said will form an important part of their communications going forward.

The development of the technology around autonomous vehicles has seen the TCs contribute to the consultations undertaken by the Law Commission and to work with the DfT and industry. In addition, the TCs report that they have continued to lead discussions with DfT officials and those in the devolved governments, representatives of operators and the local authorities to ensure that there is flexibility in the registration requirements and around the implementation of Bus Open Data in England.

Bus services

The provision of local bus services has been affected by the pandemic, and the TCs acknowledged that even with the relaxation of restrictions, operators continue to face challenges as patronage remains below March 2020 levels and with uncertain future demand. These challenges, they note, are also faced by the local authorities who seek to ensure communities are served by reliable public transport.

The TCs say that throughout the year, they reacted with speed, working with operators, local authorities and the DfT to meet these challenges and updating guidance on local services to reflect the changing situation and to provide the necessary support to the industry, whilst balancing the needs of passengers as represented by the local authorities. The TCs expressed a wish to thank the various parties for their support and cooperation in this area.

The Commissioners also continue to work with the DfT and DVSA on how the Bus Open Data Service (BODS) can assist them in their role of regulating the performance of bus services. As that service becomes more established the benefits can be fully realised, they said, with the hope it will include more cases of poor performance being referred to them for consideration. In the meantime, the TCs are working with DfT and others to ensure that operators comply with the regulations for open data and identify those operators who do not engage or comply with their obligations.

Scotland & Wales

Traffic Commissioner for Scotland Claire Gilmore noted that the PSV industry continues to be affected, the pandemic impacting passenger numbers and confidence. “Throughout the year, I have continued to work with my fellow commissioners to update and develop guidance for our industries,” she said. “Issues such as the driver shortage, and the shortage of other skilled staff to support our industries, remain a challenge across Great Britain despite recent efforts to increase numbers. Access to properly equipped high quality maintenance services, particularly for operators in rural parts of Scotland, is often limited. We must strive to ensure that proper roller brake testing facilities can be accessed regularly, and without difficulty, wherever operators are located. Such access is imperative for road safety.

“As our industries move beyond the challenges of the pandemic there is much to look forward to. There are exciting innovations in vehicle technology and Scotland will soon see the first autonomous bus service in the UK, when CAVForth begins to operate. I have no doubt that Scottish operators will continue to innovate and to run high quality, compliant, transport operations in the coming year,” she concluded.

Traffic Commissioner for Wales Victoria Davies added that the transport industry in Wales has worked incredibly hard to recover from the effects of the pandemic during the year.

“I am pleased to report that public inquiry, driver conduct and preliminary hearing numbers are almost at pre-pandemic levels in Wales once again, despite resourcing pressures faced by the compliance team throughout the year,” she wrote.

“I am particularly concerned about the worsening situation as to the shortage of PSV drivers in Wales, where the position appears to have got markedly worse than in England and Scotland over the past six months. Recent industry estimates indicate a shortage of PSV drivers in Wales of 20% in March 2022, compared to 13% in September 2021. As the lead traffic commissioner on driver issues, I have engaged in initiatives exploring how to address the shortage, including the UK Government’s Review of the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence regime. Both industry and Government recognise that there is more work to be done to address this problem, without compromising the high standards that we all expect from our professional drivers.”