How stable an establishment is your operating centre?
How stable an establishment is your operating centre?
In the hurly burly of running a transport concern one area of compliance that is frequently overlooked is that of the operating centre. Many operators have used the same operating centre for generations so that when it is time for a change some common problems can occur. This article raises some of the common problems and how to deal with them.
The law is different for Goods Vehicles and PSV’s. Insofar as PSV’s are concerned it is the law that a PSV shall not be used for hire or reward, except under a PSV operator’s licence. In order for a licence to be granted the applicant must have one or more operating centres in the relevant Traffic Area. The Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 lists the two statutory objectors who can object to the grant of PSV operator’s licence which are the Chief of Police and the Local Authority. The grounds for objecting to the grant of the licence on the basis of the unsuitability of the operating centre does not apply to PSV operator’s licence holders in the way that it does to goods vehicle licence holders. This removes a major headache for any applicant for a PSV operator’s licence, albeit it is a common misconception amongst many operators that the strict criteria in relation to the suitability of operating centres that applies to GVOL applicants applies to PSV operator’s licence applicants as well. One would have thought in those circumstances that the opportunity for mistakes to be made was limited. It is fair to say that almost all the reported Upper Tribunal appeal cases on the issue relate to goods vehicles, however some of the pitfalls remain the same. In a recent conversation with a DVSA examiner I was advised that in common with the tightening of operator’s licensing regulation generally, operating centres were going to be the next focus.
Where do you normally keep your vehicles?
One of the underlying purposes of an operating centre is to have specified on the operator’s licence a place where vehicles authorised under the licence are ‘normally kept’. Many PSV operators, particularly those operating continental coach tours, will have vehicles in their possession which spend a large amount of time away from base. There is no problem with that insofar as the law is concerned. ‘Normally kept’ is not defined but a common sense and subjective approach to consider each case on the facts is the approach one should take. One issue that does crop up from time to time is that of the driver who would rather at the end of the day return to his home address and park his vehicle outside rather than return to the operating centre. This may not be a problem if on say four or five days out of a week the vehicle is parked at the operating centre. There is no prohibition on parking away from the operating centre provided it is ‘normally kept’ at the operating centre. The parking of large vehicles in inappropriate places can cause a nuisance to the general public and if persistent may come to the attention of DVSA. As a rule of thumb in these circumstances, if an operator is compliant in other respects the relevant Traffic Examiner will often, having conducted an initial investigation, give ‘words of advice’ or an informal warning first before taking the matter further along the route of regulatory action. It is then up to the operator to ensure compliance or face the consequences. Ultimately, if the operator does not ensure compliance then the matter is capable of being subject to a Public Inquiry on the basis that a failure to adhere to one of the statutory requirements of operator licensing means that the Traffic Commissioner may no longer be able to trust the operator regarding compliance per se. There have been cases where revocation of the licence has been a consequence of the breach, albeit that is reserved for the most persistent and blatant cases.
Case Study 1
Doug works as a driver for operator Olly. Olly operates a series of registered local bus services, one of which starts and ends some distance away from his operating centre. Doug lives near to the start of that registered service. The route is operated utilising a 16 seater vehicle. Doug’s sole duty is that service and as a consequence he will routinely park the vehicle outside his home at the end of each day, only returning the vehicle to the operating centre at weekends. Nick, a neighbour objects to Doug parking his vehicle outside his house and complains to Olly who does nothing. As a consequence Tim, a traffic examiner, becomes involved and advises Doug and Olly that the vehicle must normally be kept at the operating centre. Doug is not keen on driving the 30 miles at the beginning and end of each day to collect his vehicle and tells Olly he wants to be paid more if he has to do that. With Olly’s agreement Doug parks the vehicle in different streets around Doug’s home each night, returning the vehicle at weekends. Tim carries out a follow up check and notes what Doug is doing. Olly subsequently receives a call up letter from the Traffic Commissioner requesting he attend a Public Inquiry as a vehicle on his licence is not being normally kept at the operating centre.
Moving operating centre is a material change that needs to be reported to the Traffic Commissioner and a variation application must be submitted. Another issue that one needs to keep an eye on when moving is a direct consequence of one of the vagaries of the way the Traffic Area boundaries are delineated. Sometimes a move a very short distance to a new operating centre can result in the necessity for some considerable planning because the new operating centre may be located in a Traffic Area where the operator does not have an existing licence. In that situation it will be necessary to apply for a new licence in that area, which can take some considerable time to be granted and of course there is no provision for an interim PSV operator’s licence. It is essential therefore to be aware of where the Traffic Area boundaries lie. Some locations are not in the obvious Traffic Area, particularly in the area around London.
Case Study 2
Billy an operator has all his operations based in Windsor and notifies the Traffic Commissioner, by applying for a variation to his Operator’s licence, that he intends moving to Heathrow not many miles away. He signs a lease for the new premises and then is surprised to receive notification from the Traffic Commissioner for the Western Traffic Area where he was originally based that he will need to make an application in the South Eastern and Metropolitan Traffic Area for the grant of a new licence. This causes him a problem as the application could take some time to complete and he is committed to moving shortly.
Transport Management of Operating Centres
The logic behind requiring vehicles to return to the operating centre and to be normally kept there is in part as a consequence of making sure that the Transport Manager has the opportunity to see the vehicle and the driver in order to continuously and effectively manage the transport operations of the business. An issue that the Traffic Commissioners have been tackling of late which directly relates to operating centres is in considering what are the appropriate levels of contact a Transport Manager should have with a particular operating centre. There are many examples of Transport Managers controlling a number of operating centres, a typical example would be where there is a small outpost in a rural location. Many larger bus companies have now been encouraged to reduce the number and geographical spread of operating centres for which a single Transport Manager is responsible. In the future we can expect that Traffic Commissioner’s will, when considering new applications and renewals, look increasingly forensically at what are suitable arrangements for continuous and effective management by a Transport Manager. Whilst the position is not yet one where one Transport Manager per operating centre is required, any even moderately substantial operation covering more than one operating centre is likely to require at the very least a Transport Manager with ultimate responsibility together with considerable appropriate support.
Case Study 3
Trevor, a transport manager employed by a new operator, Superbus Limited, completes a TM1 form as part of the application for a new PSV licence and submits it to the local Traffic Area office. He is intending to be transport manager covering locations at Poole, Plymouth, Truro and Bristol. The application is for an authorisation of eight vehicles at each operating centre. The number of vehicles he intends managing is within the parameters contained in the Senior Traffic Commissioner’s guidance. Notwithstanding that the Traffic Commissioner writes to Trevor asking him to explain how he will manage four operating centres over that geographical spread.
The management of operating centres by PSV operator’s licence-holders is generally straightforward and not particularly taxing. The good news is that if the recent consultation on the division of traffic areas results in a single National Traffic area then issues relating to moves across boundaries will be consigned to history, thus simplifying the requirements further. Even now, with a little planning and enquiry most problems with moves and the common issues set out above can be resolved.
Written by Andrew Banks and Peter Woodhouse of Stone King’s Transport Team.
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Efficiency, understanding and communication. This article is for guidance only. The law and practice referred to has been paraphrased or précised and should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice.