Nick Denton, Transport Commissioner for the West Midlands, discusses the vital importance of the Transport Manager’s role in the smooth running of local authority neighbourhood serices.
It’s embarrassing at best if a public authority is caught breaking the law, and the reputational damage if an authority is found to be endangering life can go much deeper. How many local authorities which operate HGVs and/or PSVs are aware of the possible consequences of failing to ensure compliance with the law? Are they aware that they could lose their operator’s licence and, worse, face corporate manslaughter charges, and do they know what to do to ensure this does not happen?
There is a (possibly apocryphal) story that, at a public inquiry she was holding into an HGV operator’s licence held by a local authority, senior traffic commissioner Beverley Bell got the council’s Chief Executive and his lowly transport manager both to write down their salary on a piece of paper. The former’s was a huge multiple of the latter’s. Mrs Bell forcefully suggested to the Chief Executive that he double the transport manager’s salary immediately and have him report directly to him in future rather than through several layers of management. It was clear that the Chief Executive had little appreciation of the transport manager’s key role in ensuring compliance and keeping the council from reputational disaster.
If, tomorrow, I was taking up a Chief Executive post at an authority which held a goods or passenger vehicle operator’s licence, the questions I would be asking in my first few days would be as follows:
Who is the transport manager? Do they have a transport manager certificate of professional competence? To whom do they report? Does that person understand the importance of the TM role? Does the TM have the support and resources necessary to run a compliant fleet?
How effective is the TM? Are they making sure that drivers do a thorough walk-round check of the vehicle before driving each day? Or are drivers just ticking a few boxes and jumping into their nice warm cab without really looking at the condition of their vehicle? Some 75% of roadworthiness prohibitions issued by DVSA are for defects (e.g. with mirrors, lights and tyres) which should have been spotted by drivers on their walkround check. Too many prohibitions will bring you to a public inquiry, facing regulatory action against your licence.
Is the TM ensuring that vehicles are being regular given safety inspections at the intervals the authority promised the traffic commissioner they would be? Are the safety inspection sheets being looked at and acted upon, or just filed? What do the safety inspection sheets say about the condition of the vehicles and the way the drivers treat them? What is the MOT pass rate? What kind of items are vehicles failing on?
Does the TM check driver entitlement (both driving licence and certificate of professional competence) and how frequently do they check it? Once every six months is not enough: a driver could have been suspended by court or traffic commissioner in the meantime but not have told you.
Are drivers’ hours being properly monitored? How often is the TM downloading driver cards and vehicle units? Are they running a comparison of the vehicle data with the driver data to make sure that drivers are not driving without their tachograph cards in the tacho unit? Are drivers’ hours infringements brought to drivers’ attention and is there an education and disciplinary system in place to make sure that infringements reduce over time?
Does the TM come under any pressure from operational staff to send vehicles out even if they are not roadworthy (e.g. they have a broken brake light or one tyre just below the 1mm minimum tread depth)? Do they have sufficient authority to insist that defects are rectified before a vehicle goes out or that a driver takes sufficient daily rest before going out again?
As Chief Executive, I would make it plain that my TM had the absolute authority to stop vehicles and drivers going out. Once I was confident that the TM had the necessary compliance procedures in place I could leave them to get on with it, submitting a weekly report listing vehicle and driver prohibitions, MOT passes, drivers’ hours infringement rate, the authority’s compliance risk score with DVSA and other key data.
Transport might seem like a small part of a Chief Executive’s empire and one that can be safely left to others. But if a local authority has an operator’s licence, the chances are that they will find life very inconvenient if they are deprived of it for a time, or indefinitely, quite apart from the humiliation the process of being deprived of it will involve. So, it’s worth spending a little time to make sure your organisation is doing it correctly, that the TM is capable and that they are properly regarded. After all, you don’t want to be forced by Mrs Bell to double anyone’s salary.