Wednesday 13 December 2017

TC vows to put non-compliant fleets out of business

Kevin Rooney, the new traffic commissioner (TC) for the West of England (pictured, right), gave attendees at the FTA’s transport manager’s conference in Somerset an insight into the workings of his office.

His message was that he expected them to exercise continuous and effective management over the operations of their companies, and that he was determined to make the operator licensing system quicker and easier to use and to put non-compliant operators out of business.

He urged operators to use the digital O-licence system. It cut the time for applications to seven weeks from nine and to five weeks for variations.

Forty-five per cent of applications were now received online, and the more applications that there were, the quicker it would be for all applicants.

Supporting documents could also be uploaded: for example, confirmations of advertising for the operating centre details from the publisher of the newspaper concerned rather than a clipping of the actual advertisement. Electronic bank statements could also be accepted instead of paper ones to show financial standing.

TC Rooney knew legitimate operators were concerned about phoenix companies walking away from their debts, going bust and starting up again while maintaining their transport operations. He reassured the audience that the TCs’ office now had direct links with Companies House.

“A published change of address for a company often indicates a change of status. This may impact on the O-licence: for instance, the change may indicate the appointment of administrators or liquidators. The TC will revoke licences where a company that is in administration or liquidation continues to operate vehicles.”

His intention was to focus on the worst operators in the west of England and either improve or remove them.

From April 2016 to March 2017, the Western Area had held 73 public inquiries (PIs), and 65 operators had attended preliminary hearings.

He explained the difference: “I can’t take action against a licence at a preliminary hearing, but I can require an operator to make undertakings to improve their compliance.”

The PIs had all resulted in revocations, suspensions/curtailments or formal warnings, with an even split between the three outcomes.

He talked through a typical PI, triggered by an ‘S’-marked prohibition being found on a vehicle during a roadside check.

“’S’ doesn’t mean ‘serious’, it means ‘systemic’,” he pointed out.

“This means that the operator’s system to prevent defective vehicles being taken out on the road has failed. And this includes drivers’ walk-around checks.”

“A tip,” he added, to laughter. “Don’t turn up for a PI dressed in rigger-boots and shorts. It’s not a good idea. Trust me.”

Typically, he said, operators would claim to be reformed characters who were now getting all their drivers to fill in defect sheets every day.

But a question remained over how well these checks were being done, if at all.

“TCs will ask for a defect sheet for a vehicle from the day before a PMI, then compare the sheet to the PMI report,” he explained.

“They will often find a clean sheet from the driver, but a shopping list of defects from the PMI.”

He also warned that those undertaking the PMI should be aware that it was not just a snapshot of the vehicle on the day, but also a prediction of its roadworthiness until the next PMI. A tyre worn down to the legal limit might be OK on the day of inspection, but it certainly would not be in six weeks’ time.

Claiming, as some operators did, that their policy was to ‘change tyres when illegal’ was not good enough.

TCs would often refer to two instances of case law in making their decisions. These were referred to as the ‘Priority Freight question’ and the ‘Bryan Haulage question.’

In layman’s terms these questions were: ‘This operator has been bad in the past, but can they be trusted to be compliant in the future: are they capable of compliance?’ and ‘Have they been so bad that they deserve to be put out of business?’

“A disqualification can be justified, if the Commissioner can answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘do I need to keep them out of the business, and if so for how long?’”

TC Rooney expanded on what was meant by ‘continuous and effective control’ for transport managers.

“This means checking driving licences regularly and online. Do not rely on having occasional sight of a plastic card.

“Check drivers’ digital tachograph cards against the vehicle units, especially if the driver is tramping.

“Watch out for drivers with two tacho cards. He may have one he uses with you, and one with his other employer. Or use one card for an hour in the morning, then put four and a half hours’ driving on his other card.

“Ninety per cent of operators seem never to look at the vehicle units; they only check drivers’ cards.

“There are two easy checks that transport managers should be doing: is there a period of ‘other work’ at the start of the shift to show that the driver has checked the vehicle, and can you see a 45-minute break?”

He said that TCs had to be convinced that named transport managers were actually undertaking the role they were supposed to.

Geography was clearly an issue for some: “I’ve got a transport manager from Tilbury coming before me, but she is named as TM on the O-licence of an Avonmouth operator.”

Transport managers had to show they were exercising control and were being rewarded for their responsibilities.

“I expect a transport manager to be paid £30,000 per annum or more, if they are full-time. The drivers must know who the transport manager is and understand his authority, and the transport manager must inform the TC if he resigns.”

TC Rooney explained that one of the issues that had emerged from the Bath tipper tragedy was the importance of continuous and effective transport management.

“There are 14 days from the resignation of a transport manager for the operator to establish a replacement or the O licence may be revoked,” he warned.

Turning to restricted licence holders, the TC said that while they were not required to have a qualified transport manager, they had to appoint a responsible person to manage their transport operations, and that person would require some training although this would be short of the CPC qualification.

“The offending rate is currently double for restricted licence holders,” he revealed.

Increased penalties for hand-held mobile phone use appeared to be working, he reported. With drivers now facing six points per offence, he was seeing far fewer referrals to driver conduct hearings.

“The second offence, which would have triggered a summons to a conduct inquiry, now means that the driver is on 12 points anyway.”

The increase in the goods vehicle speed limit to 50 mph on single carriageways meant that speeding offences were now taken far more seriously. Any truck driver caught speeding would now have to face a conduct hearing.

“Many drivers are being caught out by doing 50 mph in Scotland, where the single-carriageway limit is still 40. They crossed the border on cruise control and didn’t realise they were committing an offence.”

He concluded by warning that ‘paper’ licence applications and variations would be phased out in 2019 with everything going online.

“I still get letters that have been typed out on manual typewriters, so some operators are going to struggle,” he said.

Image (above, right): DVSA Crown copyright

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