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A t almost 6o pages, the gover ment's guide to goods

31st January 2002
Page 38
Page 39
Page 38, 31st January 2002 — A t almost 6o pages, the gover ment's guide to goods
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

vehic operator licensing is not a doe ment for the faint-hearted. Ev( in its 'easy-to-read' question-an answer format, it deman4 admirable powers of concentr Lion and stamina from anyone attempting digest it from cover to cover.

Yet this hefty publication is arguably one the most valuable any haulage operator cou have on his bookshelves. It sets out the tern and conditions for anyone wishing to run road transport company—whether it is usit one vehicle or one thousand—and describi the legal requirements which every compat must meet to stay on the right side of the la.

But despite the best attempts of tl Department of Transport, which produced ti guide, confusion over 0-licensing reg-ulatiot can and does arise. This confusion has be highlighted recently by hauliers concerned 1 what they claim are unacceptable delays in tl processing of applications for changes to tl licences—such as increasing the number vehicles they are running.

Hauliers argue that these delays, in son cases allegedly running into months rath. than weeks, have left them in a state limbo—anxious to expand their businesses meet demand but unsure of their legal statt should they be brought before their loc Traffic Commissioners to justify their action According to James Backhouse, transpc law specialist with legal firm Backhouse JonE there is no shortage of "horror stories" co cerning the delays. 'It's taking months ar months for some new applications," he say

A spokeswoman for the South Eastern and Ietropolitan Traffic Office admits the introuction of a new national computer system ist year—called Traffic Area Network 2 —fo r ie management of licensing regulations has sulted in some serious national delays.

"There is a slight backlog at the moment nd we are a month or so behind in processig applications," she says. "We had a new amputer system last year and the applicaons have to be processed in slightly different rays now. But within the next month or so we hould be up to date."

The question for hauliers affected by the elay is, can they legally run additional vehiles without waiting for confirmation from left local Traffic Area Offices?

According to the regulations, it all depends n whether the extra vehicle falls within the mit stated on the 0-licence at the time it was ranted. Every licence stipulates the maximum umber of vehicles and trailers a haulier can Ifthat figure is more than the actual size of is fleet, the operator can take on extra trucks at any time" as long as they do not exceed the mit, but only for a restricted period.

;pecified vehicles

he DoT guide states: The difference etween the number of specified vehicles nd the maximum number of vehicles uthorised on your licence is commonly ailed the margin'. Any vehicle which is eing used on the margin can only be so sed for one month.

"The vehicle ceases to be authorised if you o not notify the Traffic Commissioner bout that vehicle within the month and pay prescribed fee. At that time you must also eturn your licence documents, including le vehicle list, with a completed GV8o listig registration marks."

If the additional vehicles do exceed the limit tated on the licence, the matter becomes lore complex because this is classed as a riajor variation' to the licence conditions. In this case the operator is required to complete a different form—the GV8r—and send it with the appropriate application fee to his local Traffic Area Office.

The regulations clearly state this must be done "at least nine weeks" before the haulier needs the extra vehicles or wants to change his operating centre, to take account of the time needed to process it.

But one angry haulier, who wishes to remain anonymous, has contacted Commercial Motor to express alarm at the length of time demanded by Traffic Area Offices, and the poor service operators receive when they ring up for help.

To cope with demand, this owner-driver wanted to put another vehicle on the road in time for Christmas. But as his 0-licence stated he could only run one vehicle, and therefore had no margin, he had to apply for a major variation.

That was back in early November and by Christmas he had still heard nothing. Finally, he claims, after being passed from one member of staff to another, he was informed that he could apply for interim authority—which was granted at the beginning of January.

"I think it's a bit bad in this day and age to have wait nine or ten weeks," he says. "They had all my details from when I was first granted the 0-licence yet I still had to fax over 30 pages of bank statements."

Yet the DoT guide is unequivocal about operators' legal status: "Neither additional vehicles nor additional operating centres can be used until the application has been granted and the varied licence issued, unless interim authority has been given."

This interim authority— for which there is a fee— can be obtained by writing to your local Traffic Commissioner and explaining the circumstances. But the rules are clear that just because a TC gives the goahead for interim use of a vehicle and/or premises, there's no guarantee that the change will be permanently approved.

Major variations, according to the South Eastern and Metropolitan Traffic Area Office, are much more time-consuming.

"I would say nine weeks for a major variation would not be that bad—they can take slightly longer," the spokeswoman says. "But operators should nr use vehicles until they get their licence disk They can be stopped and prosecuted by th police and it could be their 0-licence is at risl "Whether the Traffic Commissioner will b sympathetic depends on the severity and th circumstances—it varies from area to area,

Extra vehicle

Although operators now run the risk of hal ing vehicles impounded, adding an extr vehicle that is within the stated limit is muc less serious than adding vehicles for whic an operator has no authority at all, say James Backhouse.

But even if a haulier needs to obtain major variation, he adds, the TCs are gene] ally sympathetic: "In my experience, unles TCs have some concerns about the operato and as long as the application is complete correctly, they will go fc interim approval.

"But this whole area is minefield," Backhous adds. "Some operator know only the outline lc the regulations] and man don't understand th processes their applicatio goes through before th TC even gets to see it.

"If an operator is cot cerned about an applicatio he should just pick up th phone and call his locz Traffic Area Office."

With eight regionz Traffic Area Offices diffe: ences are bound to exist i the way they work. Jaso Flegg, managing direct( of Aylesbury-based Fleg Transport, says that whe his firm considered mo, ing to Thame last year, th appropriate office—Eas

ern area could not hay been more helpful.

"They were fantastic," h says. "We wanted to moY to larger premises an extend our 0-licence to pt an extra four trucks and tw trailers on it. But at the en of the day we decided to st where we are."

The current delays ar undoubtedly causing di: ruption for some haulier: But James Backhous believes that in the lori run the new computer sy: tern will make everybody life easier by allowing a applications to processed electronically.

1-le concludes: "One the big advantages will that hauliers on the Intern will be able to find out a h more about their applic; lions more effectively."

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