Last reviewed 21 August 2023
In their latest Annual Report, the Traffic Commissioners have set out their strategic objectives from 2023 to 2025. They said that their vision is to deliver a licensing and regulatory system that champions safe, fair and reliable transport.
To that end, their objectives are 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 to promote and develop a safe road transport industry, which delivers compliance, fair competition and protects the environment. Consequently, they will seek legislative change for an improved operator licensing system.
To do that they will promote opportunities within the licensing system for reform that will contribute towards reducing the cost of entry to the transport industry. They will work with stakeholders to manage the regulatory burden arising from changes to operator licensing legislation and support innovation in the operator licensing system to prepare for future means of transport, such as autonomous and electric vehicles.
They say that to remain relevant, legislation needs to adapt to the changes in technology and society. They will work to promote changes in legislation where they believe it will lead to a greater understanding and compliance outcome, but also to support the growth of the UK economy.
One example where they believe that change is long overdue is in the approach to operating centres for goods operators. That will benefit applicants and provide greater clarity for local residents over the role that Traffic Commissioners have in determining the suitability of an operating centre. The Department for Transport has previously accepted the case for exploring changes to the legislation that requires an operator to place an advert in a local newspaper and which invites owners/occupiers of land within the vicinity to oppose those applications. Advertising requirements impose significant costs on applicants and are inconsistent with online publishing. There is general confusion over the extent of a Traffic Commissioner’s powers and how that intersects with the powers of the planning authorities. Experiences during and since the pandemic have shown that provisions requiring publication in hard copy and circulating within the locality, are now outdated, whilst the cost of advertising have risen significantly.
They feel that this type of decision, which impacts on the local community might be better made by local representatives. Local Authorities are already charged with considering planning applications and have developed the expertise to consider the impact on the relevant local community.
Imbalances in the regulatory system
At present, the Commissioners believe there is an imbalance in the regulatory system where PSV operators do not have the opportunity to respond quickly to market opportunities. The Commissioners wish to see the benefit of interim licences extended into the PSV operating licence system as soon as is possible.
As technology changes, the Commissioners will work with government, for instance on regulations for longer semi-trailers, heavier vehicles, electric vehicles, and autonomous vehicles to ensure that regulatory burdens are not disproportionate and do not act as a barrier to innovation.
They intend to deliver a better service by continuing their work with DVSA to deliver a licensing service which is properly resourced and delivers the agreed service to operators, and to work with stakeholders to better understand the service required by the communities of Great Britain.
To do that they will determine goods and standard public service vehicle applications within an average of 35 working days. They will set a target for all public inquiry cases to be listed for hearing within 12 weeks. They will support the DVSA to restructure the Office of the Traffic Commissioner to deliver a better service. They will identify opportunities for the improved use of IT to streamline quality processes and work with DVSA in support of a modern tribunal function. They will press for a review of fees that cover the cost of the service with charges that are proportionate to the size of business and level of service received. A modern jurisdiction required to be funded appropriately and by those who used the service. They could not continue to provide services for free, but that required legislative change. They would continue to pursue a reformed fee structure that covered the cost of providing the service and was also proportionate so that those who used the service most often contributed more.
DVSA Target Operating Model
At the time of writing their Annual Report they were awaiting the implementation of the DVSA Target Operating Model for the Office of the Traffic Commissioner. That model sought to improve the support provided to Traffic Commissioners and service users with a focus on creating a structured, flexible, and well-trained workforce. The implementation of those changes should enable them to realise the key targets set by the Government. As with any change, there was a potential for short-term upheaval, but they would attempt to work with DVSA to manage those risks in the interests of service users.
They would work with DVSA on exploring the potential for further modernisation to maximise the benefits from the investment in the Vehicle and Operator Licensing system and the digitalisation of evidence bundles used for Public Inquiries. The introduction of digital bundles for Public Inquiries had the potential to benefit the process by allowing all parties to have easy and ready access to updated information. They would draw on the experiences of other jurisdictions on the matter to ensure that the most appropriate model was developed, which met the needs of their tribunal and its users.
They would undertake a review of their approach to determining a driver’s suitability to drive large goods vehicles or passenger carrying vehicles. The current process had been largely unchanged for several years, and it was an appropriate time to consider whether their approach remained effective and fit for purpose. Departmental officials were currently reviewing the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence requirements. Traffic Commissioners would continue to use their expertise to assist that review.
Improved collaborative working
Traffic Commissioners were already actively engaged with the enforcement bodies, specifically the DVSA and police, on pilot schemes which were aimed at improving collaborative working. They wanted to ensure that information on non-compliant operators was lawfully available to the relevant agencies. They would continue to develop relationships with other partners such as HMRC and Border Force.
They would help operators and drivers to comply and grow by providing them with the information they required to manage their licences and meet safety standards. Continuing to improve their communication and educational resources, particularly targeting those who did not have access to relevant information or compliance advice. They would identify opportunities for the improved use of IT to assist operators to manage their operator’s licence. They would provide advice and support to LGV operators who need to appoint a qualified transport manager in meeting the professional competence requirements prior to the expiry of Acquired Rights status in May 2025.
Finally, the Commissioners say that legislation dictated how they regulate the lorry and bus industries. Their approach was restricted to what the law allowed, and any changes might impact on their ability to deliver those functions. Judicial independence was a prerequisite to the rule of law and a fundamental guarantee of a fair trial.