The Traffic Commissioner's Annual Report for the year ending 31 March 2023 was published on 20 July 2023. As the transport industry continues to evolve, Traffic Commissioners continue to work to keep Great Britain's roads safe by licensing and regulating the commercial vehicle industries. The Report highlights critical issues that have emerged in the last year and provides valuable insight into the measures being taken to address these challenges and improve the regulation of the sector.

Road transport continues to be integral to the UK's economy. The Report highlights:

  1. 77% (circa) of domestic freight was moved by road by UK registered vehicles
  2. 3.1 billion local bus service passenger journeys were undertaken
  3. 1.66 million people employed are in Transport and Storage

These figures, together with authorisation for 379,081 good vehicles and 86,371 passenger vehicles, 14,133 Operator Licence applications and variations and 13,747 local bus registrations processed mean that it has certainly been a busy time for those at the Office of the Traffic Commissioner.

Regulatory hearings have continued to be central to the work undertaken by the Traffic Commissioners with:

  1. 1,347 public inquiries determined;
  2. 269 preliminary hearings;
  3. 42 senior team leader interviews; and
  4. 15,167 vocational driver cases closed.

Looking at the detail of the Report, and regulatory action taken at public inquiry, for goods vehicles non-compliance there were 861 public inquiries completed, with 280 revocations, 108 suspensions, 216 curtailment or conditions imposed and 310 formal warnings. Looking at the individuals involved in those businesses called, 57 individuals were disqualified from being the holder of a licence and 99 transport managers were disqualified. Only 60 cases resulted in no action being taken, meaning 93% of cases called to a public inquiry resulted in a form of regulatory action being taken consequently impressing the fact that swift action needs to be taken on receipt of a call up letter, including securely specialist legal representation.

Within the Office of the Traffic Commissioner itself, changes could be afoot in assessing the Senior Traffic Commissioner's role. At the moment, it includes a mix of responsibilities, including as a tribunal judge, and in time a President of the tribunal may be established.

Recent amendments to the Senior Traffic Commissioner's Statutory Documents, and Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness (with further revision known to be coming in April 2025 in relation to brake tests) have brought greater clarity and sought to improve transparency.

A common question is the relationship between the Traffic Commissioner's office and the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). It is commonplace for the DVSA to attend a public inquiry to give evidence and the Report explains that 'Traffic Commissioners do not seek to duplicate the work of the enforcement agencies. As its title suggests, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is best placed to set or endorse safety standards. Its Examiners provide expert evidence whilst Traffic Commissioners are taught how to interpret and apply the law. Traffic Commissioners are a specialist tribunal and use their expertise to evaluate the evidence and how compliant a transport business might be.'

The future

Looking ahead, digital services appear to be further integrated into the tribunal setting. There has already been the move to the VOL system for Operators to manager their Operator Licence and it seems that further digital services will be introduced akin to those in the criminal justice system to manage cases and public inquiries. Anyone who has dealt with a public inquiry will know the reams of paper necessary to support a case, and the introduction of this is welcomes in streamlining and improving the preparation for hearings.

Changes may also be seen with the current fee structure for operators, with the Report commenting that 'the current fee structure as flawed and points to the flat-rate fee structure resulting in a disproportionate burden on smaller and medium sized businesses.'

A continuing and emerging difficulty for the industry sees an increasing shortage of individuals within the maintenance industry. Operators rely on their maintenance providers, and they play a key role in an operators compliance. Those in industry are working hard to raise awareness of this acute shortage and this Report confirms the challenges being seen.

For transport managers, the Traffic Commissioners comment that 'there is a difference between obtaining a paper qualification and the ability to actually exercise effective and continuous management of a transport operation which is the statutory requirement of a transport manager' suggesting more emphasis be placed on actual compliance and safety.

It is reported by the Traffic Commissioners that most regulatory proceedings stem from a failure to manage a risk effectively, 'often where Directors, senior managers, those at the top of the business, lose sight of the need to monitor and manage compliance with the operator licence requirements.' It reconfirms that those who manage businesses with an Operator's Licence, must develop management systems to manage that risk and be ever familiar with the undertakings provided.

For more information, you can view the full report here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1172421/230720_TCGB_Annual_Report_23_.pdf

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