Traffic Commissioners’ annual report released as function review gets underway

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The Traffic Commissioners’ report for the year to 31 March 2021 shows achievements in a tough year and focuses on rebuilding, but the Government has announced a review of the role

Alongside the publishing of their annual report, stakeholders are being encouraged to have their say on the function of the role of Traffic Commissioner.

A review was launched on 11 August with the aim of ensuring that their function is fit for the future. It will consider whether the current role, delivery model, governance and funding arrangements are fit for the future, as well as current issues faced by the Traffic Commissioner (TC) function, such as the impact of the pandemic and increased workload.

An online consultation has been set up to enable anyone with an interest, such as industry, local authorities, trade organisations and passenger groups to shape the future role of Traffic Commissioners.
Transport Minister, Baroness Vere said: “Traffic Commissioners play a key role in road safety, including helping ensure that people who operate HGVs and coaches are reputable, that there is fair competition between operators and that public inquiry proceedings are fair.
“I want to ensure that this important function is as effective as possible, which is why I have launched a thorough review and encourage anyone with an interest to have their say.”

The recommendations of the review are expected to be published next spring.

Senior Traffic Commissioner Richard Turfitt. DVSA











Annual Report

In his foreword to the Traffic Commissioners’ annual report for 2020-21, Senior Traffic Commissioner Richard Turfitt said that it identifies some of the key achievements during a very difficult year for the transport industry, but reminded readers that the success of any public service relies on those at the front line.

“We will not hesitate to intervene where road safety or effective regulation is put at jeopardy, but we continue to add to our regulatory toolbox to influence operators and encourage them to manage their own risks,” he stated, reflecting that it is now 90 years since the first meeting of Traffic Commissioners. “The last year has illustrated that traffic commissioners adapt to the needs of an ever-changing world. Instead of turning inwards we took the initiative in support of vital industries.”

This report identifies how the Traffic Commissioners intend to take forward some of the initiatives employed during the pandemic, and to make them a normal part of its business. ”We have brought forward new objectives to improve our policies and service. This report is deliberately forward looking, but I must record the exceptional efforts of my colleagues during the last year. It is my privilege to be asked to continue to lead them into the future,” he concluded.

In the year in review, there were 4.5 billion local bus service passenger journeys, representing 57% of all public transport journeys.There are currently 6,602 valid PSV operator licences, authorising 93,438 passenger vehicles. During the year, the Office of the Traffic Commissioner processed 14,080 operator licence applications and variations, and 21,717 local bus registrations.

Changed priorities

As a result of the pandemic, the OTC’s priorities changed to support the HGV and PSV industries, with initiatives and objectives adapted to meet the needs of the time. The report reveals that by March 2020, ‘good progress’ was being made towards a target to reduce the average time taken to determine appications to an average of 35 working days by March 2021. Published statistics showed that between April 2019 and March 2020 it took an average of 36.45 days to process a goods vehicle licence application and 50.1 days to process a PSV licence application. The pandemic has impacted this, and has seen the average processing times increase, to 54 days in the case of PSVs.

With regards to Brexit, the Office of the Traffic Commissioner worked on a number of fronts to facilitate the necessary changes, and said that the preparations for exiting the EU needed to maintain a degree of flexibility. “We planned for a number of scenarios and inevitably some did not materialise, but this planning was useful as it helped inform the contingency arrangements, which were then adapted to meet the pandemic,” the report concluded.

Throughout the process of reviews, the report said that it has become more readily apparent that there is a need for a more holistic approach to ensure a modern tribunal which is fit for purpose. A new service level agreement with the DVSA has been instigated which is expected to bring benefits over the coming 2021-23 reporting period.

In the year, the report says that timeliness of hearings had been raised to around 98% and the TCs were close to successfully reaching the target in all cases, although the coronavirus pandemic had an expected impact. The TCs said they are confident that actions that have been taken as a result of this have created an environment that is capable of returning to business as usual quickly, and performance is expected to recover next year. Going forward, it is likely that a targeted mix of both in-person and virtual hearing will be used.

The intended review of the methods used to measure the performance of local bus services and to issue updated statutory guidance was delayed as the TC’s focused their work on supporting the immediate needs of the pandemic, concentrating on arrangements to allow the industry to adjust to a rapidly changing operating environment.

The future

Looking forward, the TCs intend to carry forward some of the innovation which resulted from the pandemic such as the continued use of virtual hearings where appropriate, and the acceptance of online training where this is found to be effective.
Objectives set for the 2021-23 term are:

To aim to deliver a modern and effective operator licensing regime that ensures operators are fit to hold a licence whilst minimising the regulatory burden on the compliant, and continuing to promote and develop a safe road transport industry, which delivers compliance, fair competition and protects the environment.
To ensure that the new relationship with DVSA delivers a licensing service which is properly resourced to deliver the agreed performance levels.
To work with stakeholders to rebuild services in support of communities across Great Britain.
To seek legislative change for the benefit of the operator licensing system by looking for opportunities within the licensing system for reform which will contribute towards removing the cost of entry to the transport industry, and by supporting innovation in the operator licensing system to prepare for future means of transport, such as autonomous and electric vehicles.
To support the delivery of improved local bus services and better journeys by integrating changes brought about by the National Bus Strategy. There will be a review of how performance of local bus services is measured by engaging with the industry and other stakeholders and promoting updated statutory guidance, and opportunities arising from the Bus Open Data Service will be used to improve local services.

The TC’s pledged to support those they regulate to comply and grow, and to make engagement accessible so that operators and drivers are provided with the information they require to manage their licences and meet safety standards.