Babies and bath water
The Editor believes the consultation into the role of the Traffic Commissioner may be a preamble for centralising the system. Careful what you wish for, he says
Regardless of whether you have ever faced a finger-wagging Traffic Commissioner, you should be wary of wholesale changes in the enforcement system.
The government consultation currently running seeks to redefine the role of Traffic Commissioners, and it has to be said that the system is a little archaic in its concept. While there have been areas of modernisation such as digitalisation, its origin in more patriarchal times seems dated.
The industry’s relationship with the Traffic Commissioners has, at times, been fraught; inevitably a system which pits a single Traffic Commissioner and his or her team against an operator is bound to generate some friction and a few allegations of victimisation. But beware the alternatives.
This government’s obsession with centralisation may lead to a much more distanced system in which the regional structure is destroyed and, as a result, the person passing judgement on your compliance will be distanced from the geography and the communities you serve. Currently, I am very aware of the leniency offered to some operators. That is derived from the Traffic Commissioner’s understanding of those operators, and face-to-face contact which is absolutely invaluable to relationship building.
At present, you can call your local TC team and have an informal conversation. That will certainly disappear if the system is centralised, and you may find yourself wasting breath on a bureaucrat in Central London.
Any new system which removes that will be much worse. You could face compliance action by email from Great Minster House, and decisions being made with no understanding of local conditions. At present, you can call your local TC team and have an informal conversation. That will certainly disappear if the system is centralised, and you may find yourself wasting breath on a bureaucrat in Central London.
The Office of the Traffic Commissioner has long been a budgetary whipping boy. It doesn’t have the resources it needs, and the fact that Traffic Commissioners have openly criticised their governmental masters will have had some bearing on the desire of government to change the system.
Centralisation would be a disaster for everyone. We have already seen an example during this pandemic, the National Audit Office judging that the Test and Trace system costing £37 billion was almost completely ineffective. Local authorities, I believe, would have been more effective in quarantining localised outbreaks of Covid, and for a much lower cost. I am not alone in believing this.
It is important that operators respond to the consultation, and give full explanations of what goes wrong, and why you think things go wrong. But be careful what you wish for. I believe this is also an opportunity for operators to endorse a well-funded, regional system with short command chains.