The role of the Traffic Commissioner
The Traffic Commissioners are appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport, with the Senior Traffic Commissioner from June 2017 being Richard Turfitt, who is also covering the East of England Traffic Area.
Each of the Traffic Commissioners have responsibility in their area for:
- The licensing of the operators of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) and of buses and coaches (Public Service Vehicles or PSVs).
- The registration of local bus services.
- Granting vocational licences and taking action against drivers of HGVs and PSVs.
The Traffic Commissioner for Scotland is also responsible for dealing with both appeals against decisions by Scottish local authorities on taxi fares, with appeals against charging and removing improperly parked vehicles in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Commissioners are statutorily independent in their licensing functions. When necessary, they hold Public Inquiries (PI), in particular to consider the environmental suitability of HGV operating centres and the possibility of disciplinary action against operators who have not observed the conditions of their licences.
The Senior Traffic Commissioner
The Senior Traffic Commissioner, Richard Turfitt, has important responsibilities to determine how the Traffic Commissioners perform their statutory functions.
This includes determining which statutory functions each Traffic Commissioner works on, and issuing general directions and guidance to the Traffic Commissioners and Deputy Traffic Commissioners (DTCs).
Traffic Commissioners: Roles and Responsibilities
The Senior Traffic Commissioner has produced this summary of the traffic commissioners’ roles and responsibilities:
Their mission: to champion safe, fair and reliable passenger and goods transport.
Key facts about Traffic Commissioners:
Operator licensing is about managing risks to safety, allowing fair competition whilst also seeking greater reliability for passengers.
They are regulators but also carry out judicial functions to achieve those aims of safe, reliable and fair transport of passengers and goods.
They represent a modern approach to regulation, allowing value for money decision making.
The independence of Traffic Commissioners ensures the fairness of individual licensing decisions.
As modern regulators Traffic Commissioners work with others to improve safety, competition and the reliability of road transport.
What Traffic Commissioners do:
Traffic Commissioners use their powers to ensure that people operating the types of vehicle detailed above are reputable, competent, and adequately funded. Action by the Traffic Commissioners is intended to encourage all operators to adopt robust systems, so that there is fair competition and that the operation of goods and public service vehicles is safe.
As part of the system for the licensing of public service vehicle and good vehicle operators, and the registration of local bus services Traffic Commissioners can also take action against members of those industries.
They can also impose financial penalties against bus companies for failures to run registered local transport services on time.
Where vehicles have been impounded for operating illegally Traffic Commissioners can decide if they will be returned.
Traffic Commissioners are also given responsibility to consider on behalf of the Secretary of State the fitness of drivers or those applying for passenger carrying vehicle or large goods vehicle driving licences based on their conduct.
Traffic Commissioners can also be asked to impose traffic regulation conditions to prevent danger to road users and/or reduce traffic congestion and/or pollution.
Traffic Commissioners engage with stakeholders: listening to industry, meeting with local authorities, trade associations, passenger groups and operators and presenting seminars.
Traffic Commissioners are regulators, but when they decide a case at a public inquiry (PI) they are acting in a judicial capacity. That means that they have to ensure that, like any other tribunal in Great Britain, the proceedings are fair and free from any unjustified interference or bias. This removes from Ministers of the State the burden of operational decision making, protects the rights of interested persons and avoids overburdening the civil courts so that decisions can be made more quickly.
Traffic Commissioners are independent
Traffic Commissioners work at ‘arms length’ from the Department for Transport (DfT), which allows decisions to be open and transparent.
The Traffic Commissioners and DVSA
Whilst Traffic Commissioners have responsibility in their area for the licensing and registration of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) operators, and bus and coach (PSVs) operators they delegate much of this work undertaken to staff provided by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). They also work closely with other DfT officials to ensure that they have the level of support needed to undertake their functions.
Traffic Commissioners provide an annual report to the Secretary of State for Transport. The publication of that report and other documents and plans allows members of the public to see what they have been doing and what they hope to achieve on their behalf.
Traffic Commissioners’ Hearings
It is the Traffic Commissioner who ultimately decides whether to call an operator or driver to a hearing. This allows a Traffic Commissioner the opportunity to examine the applicant or licence holders, before reaching a decision on whether to grant or refuse an application or to take action against the licence holder.
These hearings are termed ‘Public Inquiries’, but allow more flexibility than the courts to achieve the object of safe, reliable and fair transport of passengers and goods. If the Traffic Commissioner is not satisfied that a person should hold an operator’s licence then they can refuse that licence; if an existing operator does not keep to the rules designed to ensure road safety and fair competition then they can reduce the number of vehicles that they can run under the licence, suspend or revoke that licence and so stop them from running the relevant vehicles; they can also disqualify people from and/or stop them from being involved with the operation of a goods or public service transport business; or take less drastic action, depending on what is most proportionate.
The letter calling an operator or applicant to the inquiry, commonly known as the “calling in letter” explains why it a Public Inquiry has been called and gives details of the legislation that it has been called under, together with the evidence that the Traffic Commissioner will consider.
Who should attend the Public Inquiry
If the operator or applicant is a sole trader or partnership the owner or partners should attend the inquiry.In the case of a company, at least one director or a senior representative with written authorisation from the board of Directors, will need to attend to represent the company at the PI. Photographic identification will be required. Failure to attend the inquiry could result in the Traffic Commissioner determining the case in the absence of the applicant or operator.
Evidence is not given under oath, but witnesses are expected to tell the truth as a failure to do so could lead to an adverse finding on fitness or repute by the Traffic Commissioner. The hearing is open to members of the public and any other interested parties. The Traffic Commissioner will consider, on request, whether to hear certain sensitive evidence in private session, i.e. financial information or personal medical information.
Everyone who is entitled to give evidence, make submissions, or make representations will be given the opportunity to speak and to ask questions.Anyone giving evidence to the PI can expect to be asked questions by the applicant/operator, or representative, and the Traffic Commissioner.
The proceedings will be recorded, so that a transcript can be produced should one be required (normally transcripts are ordered only in cases where there is an appeal against the Traffic Commissioner’s decision).
What will Traffic Commissioners consider?
The “calling in letter” will advise on what the Traffic Commissioner specifically wishes to consider at a particular hearing. There are certain mandatory requirements for different types of licence.
All applicants and operators are required to show a specified level of financial standing throughout the life of the licence. Since January 2017 the levels have been £7,850.00 for the first vehicle and £4,350.00 for each additional vehicle for a standard national or standard international licence. The requirement for restricted licences is £3,100 for the first vehicle and £1,700 for additional vehicles.
When considering this the Traffic Commissioner may seek an answer to three key questions:
How much money can the applicant or operator find if the need arises;
how quickly can it be found; and
where will it come from?
The Traffic Commissioner will consider finance available (maybe in the bank) which is capable of being used (i.e. it is not already needed for the payment of debts in the ordinary course of the business) including an overdraft facility (where the balance undrawn), or other sources which are readily obtainable (for instance assets which can be readily sold without any adverse effect on the ability of the business to generate money) or some other source in which money can be obtained at fairly short notice.
All holders of a standard national or international operator’s licence are required to be of good repute. When considering good repute the Traffic Commissioner may take into account any relevant convictions or any other information which appears to relate to the licence holder’s fitness to hold a licence. The relevant convictions are stated in legislation and include convictions for road transport offences and other serious offences.
The standard of proof before a Traffic Commissioner is less than that required by a criminal court. Traffic Commissioners need to be satisfied that the facts have been proved on the ‘balance of probability’, i.e. more likely than not. Parties will usually be informed of the outcome of the PI on the day. This will be confirmed in writing within a few days unless the Traffic Commissioner reserves his/her decision, in which case the written decision will be sent to the operator as soon as possible, usually within 28 days.
The Secretary of State cannot exert control over those ‘judicial’ functions but Traffic Commissioners are accountable to the higher courts. Applicants, operators and statutory objectors (but not representors in ‘environmental cases’) have a right of appeal, as set out in the statute, to the Administrative Appeal Chamber of the Upper tier Tribunal (formerly the Transport Tribunal).
Further advice on the legal requirements can be found in the written Practice Directions issued by the Senior Traffic Commissioner, which outline the developed practices in various areas of Traffic Commissioner work.Amongst other areas, these cover Financial Standing, Public Inquiries, Rehabilitation of Offenders and the requirements of a Transport Manager. Practice Directions can be viewed and/or downloaded
A copy of the Act or Regulations referred to in the letter calling an operator to PI can be purchased from The Stationery Office Limited (Tel: 0870 600 5522), electronic versions of the Act and Regulations can be viewed at www.opsi.gov.uk.
Administrative Appeals Chamber Judgments
This is an independent judicial body, which has been established with a jurisdiction to hear and decide appeals against decisions of Traffic Commissioners. Its published decisions can be found at www.transporttribunal.gov.uk
All the Traffic Commissioners are assisted by Deputy Traffic Commissioners, who hold some of the Public Inquiries.
Traffic area offices
South Eastern and Metropolitan
3 Ivy Terrace
386 Harehills Lane
Stone Cross Place
Stone Cross Lane
West Midland and Welsh
38 George Road
Birmingham B15 1PL
The Stamp Office
10 Waterloo Place
All the above information was compiled by Steve Williams of Truck (UK) Limited from information widely available through the Department for Transport website – sdwApril2017