Monday 18 November 2019

DVSA to tackle ‘crisis’ in ATF test availability

The Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) sought to address ongoing concern about the lack of availability of heavy vehicle annual roadworthiness test slots at authorised testing facilities (ATFs) last month, by hosting the first in a series of round-table meetings with relevant trade bodies.

The event focused on how DVSA could work with the sector to improve testing services for ATFs and fleet operators, including by making test slots easier to secure.

The meeting came in the midst of what both the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the ATF Operators Association (ATFOA) have called a “crisis” in the annual testing system.

Some ATF operators are experiencing waiting times of 10-12 weeks for tests, ATFOA says, as compared to a 4-6 week wait recorded in March – while the RHA has warned that some fleets are seeing vehicles grounded due to a failure to secure test slots.

DVSA pointed out that demand for slots had increased by 18 per cent over the past twelve months, despite the national fleet size of in-scope vehicles having remained static – and emphasised its 99.6 per cent fulfilment record for test reservations made this year.

Nonetheless, the agency acknowledged the level of concern around the difficulties of securing tests, and expressed an intention to “improve the booking process from end to end”, including by making test availability more transparent for those operators looking to secure a slot.

It confirmed it would proceed with plans to increase the number of network business managers (NBMs), who act as direct contacts for ATF operators requiring support – and would examine how to provide more flexible testing to meet peaks in demand.

It also committed to providing more meaningful and regular management information, and to consult with industry on a review of the current model for annual tests by the end of October – which would include inviting trade groups to provide input on the terms of reference.

Richard Hennessey, DVSA director of operations for the south, said the meeting was “very positive”.

“We acknowledge that ATFs, operators and their representative bodies are very concerned about the availability of testing slots and the ease of securing a test booking,” he said.

“We are in the process of recruiting an additional 85 vehicle testers into the high demand areas. This will have the benefit of also relieving testing pressure in other parts of the UK.

“We have established measures to help ensure that there is adequate testing capacity in areas of high demand. These have already been put into operation for the busy summer period.”

ATFOA chairman Stephen Smith, who attended the meeting, told Transport Operator: “DVSA have found their existing strategy, to recruit themselves out of the tester shortage, extremely challenging.

“This is of no surprise, as the ATFOA had advised them to look at other strategies over three years ago, and reiterated this message in September last year at the ATFOA conference.

“Their net tester levels have dropped eight per cent so recruitment is clearly not working.”

However, he added that ATFOA believed the round-table meeting had demonstrated that DVSA would: “work with the industry to develop proactive strategies that will combat the crisis and deliver progress in the short term”.

“ATFOA were pleased with the outcome of the meeting… with DVSA committing to developing other strategies, put forward by the group, to improve the waiting time for a test and to introduce more flexibility to the booking and tester allocation processes,” he said.

In addition to ATFOA, the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Freight Transport Association (FTA), Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) and the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) were all in attendance at the meeting.

Elizabeth de Jong, FTA UK policy director, said its members had been “eager for a long period” to improve testing arrangements, which the round-table event would help deliver.

“Achieving a meaningful measurement of the performance of the whole testing system has been a key priority for the freight sector, along with a full review of operations,” she said.

“We have been working with DVSA for some time regarding difficulties that our members have been experiencing in relation to vehicle testing.

“We believe that significant change is required in relation to the availability of testing resources. So we were pleased with the outcome of the meeting last week, as it identified some key actions for improvement through working together.”

The RHA’s Tom Cotton added: “The industry has had serious problems getting testing slots from DVSA that has stifled the ability to get vehicles tested quickly.

“The severe and active rationing of available slots has been getting worse for some time, so it is welcome that DVSA are now committing to improving the availability of testing slots and actively helping hauliers and ATF operators secure slots when needed.”

The RHA also said that deploying more staff to ATFs “should only be the first step”, adding that DVSA should consider outsourcing annual tests to independent authorised inspectors, in addition to the agency’s own team.

RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett said: “Booking roadworthiness tests can be a problem when there aren’t enough staff available to carry them out. This means ATF operators are left with facilities that are not being used to capacity and hauliers are left with lorries and trailers off the road.”

Keith McNally, operations director of the CPT, said the difficulties had been impacting its members in the bus and coach sector too.

“We believe that significant change is required in relation to the availability of testing resources. So we were pleased with the outcome of the meeting last week, as it identified some key actions for improvement through working together.”

DVSA has committed to an update meeting in July, with a second round-table meeting planned for September.

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