We speak to Beverley Bell, Traffic Commissioner for the North Western Traffic Area of the UK, to help group organisers understand what this title means and how it relates to the world of a GTO.
Beverley Bell has been the Traffic Commissioner for the North Western Traffic Area since she was appointed in April 2000. There are seven Traffic Commissioners that cover the regional areas of the North West, North East, Scotland, West Midlands and Wales (which share a Commissioner), Eastern, Western and SEMTA (which stands for South Eastern and Metropolitan and includes London). Beverley’s background is as a solicitor practising criminal and transport law so she is well placed to deal with the challenges that this full-time role requires.
What is a Traffic Commissioner?
“Traffic commissioners are the regulators of the commercial vehicle industry in England, Scotland and Wales – that is lorries, coaches, buses and their drivers. Regulation first began in 1931 and we ensure that operators are competing fairly and that companies and their drivers comply to road safety standards in our respective areas. We are responsible for issuing PSV (Public Service Vehicle) operators’ and drivers’ licences and, by working with VOSA (Vehicle and Operator Services Agency), we make sure the conditions for these licenses are met. Although we are appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport, the role is non-political and independent of government. A GTO is going to be more concerned with how we oversee coach operators and their drivers and so it is also worth noting that we work with organisations such as the Confederation of Passenger Transport to listen and report to government the issues their members raise. Traffic Commissioners also meet every quarter to discuss matters.”
What conditions need to be met before an operator or driver is licensed?
“Operators and drivers must fill in an application for a PSV operators’ license or PSV drivers’ license respectively, which is then sent to VOSA. Examples of conditions that must be met include the need for operators to prove that they are financially solvent, admit any previous liquidation or bankruptcy issues and in the case of both operators and drivers, admit to any previous criminal convictions before the application is considered and approved by the area Traffic Commissioner. A PSV drivers’ license is separate and additional to their normal coach drivers’ license.”
What safety checks need to be undertaken in order to comply with safety regulations?
“All operators need to undertake a thorough safety check on their vehicles every six weeks. This means that a qualified mechanic goes through the coaches with a fine tooth comb looking at important technical issues such as making sure that the brakes are working. Drivers then also have to ensure they do a walk-around check of their vehicle daily, if it has been in use, which involves processes such as checking the lights work.”
How do you make sure operators and drivers continue to be safe?
“Operators are monitored by VOSA and if they are not running their businesses properly, a representative will visit the site to check things such as the physical condition of the vehicles and that drivers are not working outside their allowed hours. Once this has been done, the matter is then referred to the relevant Traffic Commissioner who decides what to do. In the case of an operator, the first stage is usually to issue a warning letter in order for the operator concerned to put the matter right. If this is not done, the operator must then attend a public enquiry, which involves a meeting with their Traffic Commissioner to find out why things went wrong and how to put them right. In extreme cases we can take action to ensure that operators comply by, for instance, forcing their drivers to undertake specific training programmes, cutting down the amount of vehicles they operate or revoking their licenses completely so that they can no longer trade. I must stress though that the majority of operators do run in a safe way. If drivers are involved in an incident of dangerous driving or crash and are subsequently convicted then their PSV is taken away and they need to appear before the Traffic Commissioner in person to see if they are entitled to apply for a new one. Even if there is not a conviction, a Traffic Commissioner can still decide to revoke the drivers’ license. We work closely with the police when these incidents occur but again, it is important to remember that 99.9% of coach drivers are safe.”
How do you make sure operators compete fairly?
“Again, operators are monitored by VOSA and they ensure that companies are competing legally; for instance, if an operator is only undertaking safety checks every 12 weeks, that gives an unfair advantage over the operator down the road, who is complying with the law and paying for a check every six weeks, meaning more expenditure and, consequently, higher hire charges for the customer, which may damage the business.
What can a GTO do to help?
“Any GTO looking to hire a coach should check that both the operator and driver has a PSV licence, which is indicated by a blue disc for each in the front windscreen of the vehicle. If we are doing our job properly, then you should not have to check anything else. That said, GTOs need to be our eyes and ears and report anything that they see as not right. I don’t want to know about minor issues such as if a driver is difficult or a vehicle is dirty but I do want to be informed if a coach is doing 80 miles an hour in the outside lane of a motorway or the driver is on his mobile phone when driving.”
Here are the details of how to contact the traffic commissioner in your area:
Eastern (Beds, Bucks, Cambs, Essex, Herts, Lincs, Leics, Norfolk, Northants, Suffolk)
– Richard Turfitt, 01223 531028
North Eastern (Durham, East Yorkshire, North-East Lincs, North Lincs, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Notts, South Yorkshire, Tees Valley, Tyne and Wear, West Yorkshire)
– Tom Macartney, 0113 254 3224
North Western (Cheshire, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside)
– Beverley Bell, 01942 295021
South Eastern and Metropolitan (Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, Greater London, Kent including Medway, Surrey, West Sussex)
– Philip Brown, 01323 452403
West Midland (Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent, Telford and Wrekin, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and surrounding unitary authorities) and Welsh
– Nick Jones, 0121 609 6807/0121 609 6823
Western (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire and surrounding unitary authorities)
– Sarah Bell, 0117 900 8516
– Joan Aitken, 0131 200 4911
For more information on Traffic Commissioners visit the Department for Transport’s website at www.dft.gov.uk