The enforcement activities of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) - Transport Committee Contents

4  Public service vehicle operator licensing and reliability monitoring

Public service vehicle operator licensing

34.  Regulations arising from the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 enable the relevant authorities to detain a goods vehicle and its contents if the person operating that vehicle is doing so without a vehicle operator's licence.[56] The Local Transport Act 2008 introduced a corresponding provision for the unauthorised use of public service vehicles (PSVs), adapted to carry more than eight passengers.[57] Under regulations which will enter into force on 1 October 2009, certain PSVs can be detained if the user does not hold a valid PSV operator's licence.[58]

35.  While this change is welcome, witnesses highlighted other areas of concern in relation to PSV licensing which the Government has not addressed. The Senior Traffic Commissioner told the Committee that, at present, PSVs are not specified on operator licences, meaning that if an operator holds a licence, they can transfer the licence from one vehicle to another. This makes it very hard to prove who was using a given vehicle at a particular time, or if a specific vehicle has passed the required annual test:

At the moment a bus operator is given a number of discs. They will apply for and get ten discs, but they can use any number of vehicles just by putting those discs in any window of any vehicle that they happen to be using, including vehicles which are used by somebody else. So when it comes down to VOSA having to try and establish who the user of that vehicle is on any particular day in a non-compliant state or with drivers committing offences it is quite difficult for VOSA to come up with evidence which indicates that a certain operator was operating illegally on a certain day.[59]

36.   The then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Jim Fitzpatrick MP told us that the possibility of specifying vehicles to licences had been discussed in the past, but had been rejected due to the additional burden it would place on the industry. However, it seems perverse that a measure which could obviously help to improve standards should be rejected on the grounds of protecting the industry.

37.  There is a further ongoing problem regarding operator licensing. If one division of an operator group has a licence revoked for non-compliance with the vehicle safety regulations, vehicles from another division of the group could be brought in to run on that route instead. The Local Transport Act 2008 attempted to resolve this issue by making licence conditions applicable to all licences within an operator group. The Traffic Commissioners suggested that while the Act did resolve the issue in relation to punctuality and reliability compliance, a loophole still existed regarding vehicle safety compliance:

If you have got First X and First Y within the First Group, for not running their buses on time then there is a provision in the Local Transport Act which prevents licensing First X from running routes which First Y is not allowed to run because it can apply to the whole group. However, if vehicles are not specified on an operator's licence, if you revoke First X's licence to operate in that traffic area, if there is another First company within that traffic area, then that company can run the route. That company, even if it is not within the traffic area, may also be able to run the route in X's traffic area, if you like, and I think that is the difficulty. It is to do with road safety.[60]

38.  This kind of behaviour limits other operators' ability to compete for the route and the specification of licences to vehicles may help prevent such behaviour. We welcome the improvements to public service vehicle (PSV) operator licensing, but there are clear loopholes, which imperil the safety of passengers, that still need to be closed regarding the use of PSV operator licences on multiple vehicles. We recommend that appropriate legislation be introduced as soon as possible to make provision for the specification of vehicles on operator licences for public service vehicles.

Reliability and punctuality monitoring

39.  Through the Local Transport Act 2008, the powers of the Traffic Commissioners with regard to monitoring and regulation of bus service reliability and punctuality were enhanced. In practice, the monitoring of local bus services on the ground is carried out by Bus Compliance Officers, employed by VOSA. Ten Bus Compliance Officers serve the whole of England, with six in Scotland and three in Wales. These officers are funded directly from the Department for Transport, and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.[61] Our evidence indicates that VOSA is unlikely to receive additional resources to provide extra support for the enhanced powers of the Traffic Commissioners in this area. Neither VOSA nor the Department for Transport appeared clear about how the new provisions were going to be implemented.[62] There was a feeling among some witnesses that the solution might in part be in new technology, for example GPS monitoring, rather than more staff.[63] Some witnesses also questioned whether VOSA was the most appropriate body to support the Traffic Commissioners in their reliability and punctuality monitoring function.[64] Mr Tetlow, VOSA's then Chief Executive, argued that local transport authorities would be better placed to carry out this task:

My own view is the Integrated Transport Authorities would be better doing [the monitoring] themselves. I think there is a role for VOSA which we could play if we are required to in providing targeted information or checking the validity of the information that they are being given. I do not think it would be our role to check the punctuality of bus routes all over the country.[65]

40.  Indeed, in their written evidence, pteg (the Passenger Transport Executive Group) suggested that there was a case for Transport Executives to take on a greater role in monitoring bus performance and reliability and that this could provide "an opportunity to improve the overall robustness and effectiveness of performance monitoring and enforcement".[66]

  1. The system of regulating bus services is certainly complicated, with a wide range of stakeholders involved: VOSA, the Traffic Commissioners, the Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs), Passenger Focus (the new bus passenger watchdog), and even the police. Therefore, it must be clarified exactly where the responsibility for different aspects of enforcement lies. If the new reliability and punctuality monitoring system is to be effective, the role of VOSA and all other relevant agencies must be clarified. However, we do not believe that VOSA currently has the resources to adequately undertake this responsibility on top of its existing remit. We recommend that the Government transfer the responsibility for monitoring punctuality and service reliability to local bodies such as Integrated Transport Authorities. At the same time, the possible efficiencies that might be achieved by a more high-tech approach to monitoring should be explored.

56   The Goods Vehicles (Enforcement Powers) Regulations 2001 came into force on 4 January 2002 Back

57   Following a consultation in December 2008, the Government announced on 22 June 2009 that the relevant implementing regulations would be brought into force on 1 October 2009. Back

58   Department for Transport, PSV impounding: response to consultation paper, June 2009 Back

59   Qq 87 & 91 Back

60   Qq 114 - 119 Back

61   Ev 73, paras 6-10; Q 43 Ms Shaw Back

62   Q 95, Qq 176 - 180 and Q 229 Back

63   Q 178 and Q 43 Back

64   Q 121 Back

65   Q 181 Back

66   Ev 47, pp 8.1 - 8.2 Back

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