Senior traffic commissioner (STC) Richard Turfitt opened his address to the Microlise Transport Conference by saying that he had almost been made late by a major traffic incident on the A14 interrupting his journey from East Anglia.
“It was apparently caused by some drivers who I’m looking forward to catching up with later,” he said in headmasterly fashion.
He pointed out that this year saw his employer, the Department for Transport, celebrate 100 years as a government ministry. The first traffic commissioners had been appointed by the ministry in 1932, as the ‘independent tribunal for licences’.
He stressed that, then as now, “consistency, continuity and transparency,” were key qualities for TCs in their role as “gatekeepers of the industry, reassuring compliant operators that they were competing on a level playing field”.
The TCs’ duty was to “focus on the services that operators paid for through their licence fees.”
Digital services had revolutionised operator licensing. “The old VOSA platform was not fit for service,” he admitted.
A new platform, launched late in 2016, meant that all major transactions between operators and DVSA could now be conducted digitally.
“Operators can now change their nominated operating centre and fleet size online,” he said.
Reducing the times taken to process these applications was now a “flagship priority,” but this was to a great extent dependent upon operators getting all the correct information attached to their application on at least the second attempt.
Besides processing applications swiftly, the biggest need was to “focus on operators who seek to frustrate or avoid the law”.
“We also need to educate and inform operators – too many still don’t engage with us,” the STC said.
When operators needed to appear at inquiries, they were entitled to prompt treatment.
There was an issue with proximity, as the traffic areas were large. Accessibility could be improved by allowing evidence to be given by video link, but this, in itself, was a challenge as it was not always appropriate.
“The interests of justice, and not the interests of the individual, must always prevail,” he said.
Managing driver behaviour was a key factor in keeping an O-licence, STC Turfitt explained, saying that there were now 30 case studies available online that operators could use as a basis for ‘toolbox talks’ with drivers.
He concluded by congratulating the majority of operators on the “invisibility of their success.
“If there are no incidents, then we don’t get noticed,” he asserted.
“We only see non-UK hauliers when their vehicles get impounded: we realise then how bad they are and how good you are.”
Meanwhile Marian Kitson, who was appointed director of enforcement at DVSA last September, gave delegates to the conference a brief summary of the approach of the roads and transport enforcement agency.
She was pleased to say that seven per cent of the eligible UK vehicle parc was now in DVSA’s Earned Recognition scheme. This allowed proportionate intervention, with more effort going into targeting non-compliant operators.
DVSA aimed to set out and enforce: “minimum standards for a lifetime of safe driving and safe vehicles, and to protect society from the consequences of unsafe drivers and vehicles being on the road”.
She said: “DVSA is at the roadside 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is aided by 10,000 ANPR cameras around the UK.
“Our aim is to detect, deter and disrupt the non-compliant.
“Over £7 million worth of fines are now issued by DVSA examiners.”
Wheel security and tyres were areas where the industry could do better.
“Tyres remain a big issue at roadside stops and that’s a real disappointment,” she said.
Load security was also under scrutiny. She showed a picture of some pallets of bottled water that had been placed in a curtainsider trailer completely unstrapped. Some had been laterally displaced and were overhanging to one side of the vehicle.
She concluded with a warning that even the seven per cent of vehicles that were in the Earned Recognition scheme would not be immune from scrutiny on this issue.
“All vehicles will be stopped if something is visibly wrong,” she said.