There has been “an explosion” in the number of traction-only operators during the pandemic according to traffic commissioner for the North-East of England, Tim Blackmore.
More than a quarter (28%) are traction only operators while half are choosing to run their own trailers. The remaining percentage (22%) are hiring in their trailers, but the TC warns that there is a lot more risk being introduced in to the trailer space, as a result.
“We’ve seen an explosion of traction-only operators during the pandemic. The trailer owner would normally be responsible for maintenance, however, the operator must still comply with the obligations,” Blackmore said.
“So, if you hook up to someone’s trailer and incur a prohibition it’s your licence that is getting hit. There has to be a partnership between the traction-only operator and the trailer owner, and [they must work together and be able to give the traction-only operator the assurances that it is roadworthy including an in-date brake test,” he added.
Blackmore reports that there has also been a 20% increase in new applications in the last three months, and that the office of the traffic commissioner is currently behind on its own targets of a 35 day wait time for a new application or variation.
“We’re currently on 46.7 days, which is nowhere near where we want to be, but we have just signed a new service level agreement with the DVSA and they’re committed to driving down that time by working with the traffic commissioners,” Blackmore explained.
Speaking at the Tip-Ex conference in Harrogate, Blackmore also noted that the pandemic has been particularly hard financially for operators but that they must continue to report their situation to the traffic commissioner who will show understanding.
“The last 18 months have been hard financially, but operators should be aware that there’s a requirement to tell the TC if there’s been a change in financial standing to get a period of grace. Throughout the pandemic we’ve been assisting operators, but we’ve only had 150 request for periods of grace which is probably nowhere near where it should be. Operators still need to tell us about material change and it’s a repute issue [if they don’t],” he noted.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, in a survey 65% of respondents said they thought their fleets would increase in size throughout the year – “The sentiment is good, despite Brexit and Covid there is positivity in the industry.”
Blackmore explains that he personally is back to “business as usual” with in-person hearings wherever possible and says that there is no substitute to understand the nuisances and emotions of a hearing.
A good proportion of new applications, currently 1 in 7, are also previously-self-employed drivers, Blackmore said: “Self-employed drivers are having to get their own O-licence because of IR35; which is great because we’re closing that loophole. It’s becoming a good-repute issue for operators because it’s about fair competition.”
Finally, on the subject of bridge strikes, Blackmore said there are still far too many occurring.
“There’s an expectation now to properly plan your routes, you have a responsibility and if you don’t the traffic commissioner will take action against operators and drivers. We are seeing a greater proportion of agency drivers causing bridge strikes. Often, it’s an agency driver who has had little or no induction, they jump in a wagon and off they go, but the common theme is that there’s no route planning. We are honing in on this and there should be a wider responsibility for bridge strikes,” Blackmore said.