The Authorised Testing Facility Operators Association (ATFOA) has responded to the heavy vehicle testing review that was recently published by the Department for Transport by claiming that it will do little to quickly address difficulties that surround testing capacity.
Key to ATFOA’s criticism is what it says is the failure of the review to pave the way to further discussion of “plausible alternatives” to the current regime. ATFOA claims that the only way to add capacity in the short- to medium-term is to hand over responsibility for carrying out tests to the private sector.
Under that delegated mechanism, a suitably qualified ATF employee would carry out the test. ATFOA has long called for delegated heavy vehicle testing. It says that omitting from the review potential for further discussion around that transfer of responsibility makes any debate around wider change “rather pointless.”
In 2020 ATFOA worked with Lord Attlee in a bid to introduce delegated testing and it credits his work with leading to the review being called. Despite Lord Attlee’s efforts, delegated testing did not progress in the Business and Planning Bill. Its further omission from the review appears to have ended any faint remaining hopes of its introduction.
ATFOA has also questioned the review’s conclusion that heavy vehicle testing is “generally not in crisis.” Chair Stephen Smith claims that “most ATFs and stakeholders would disagree with [that] statement.” He argues that the regime “has been in crisis since Next Generation Testing was introduced.”
Mr Smith alleges that a suspension of testing between March and July 2020 could have been avoided had DVSA utilised “thousands of IRTE qualified private sector testers” that he says were “ready and willing” to start delegated testing of heavy vehicles as soon as DVSA’s own staff were withdrawn from ATFs.
On proposals in the review that a moratorium on the opening of new ATFs is lifted, ATFOA claims that DVSA would need to “massively increase” its pool of testers before that could happen. While the Association says it welcomes competition, it has expressed unease about the increase in testing fees that would be necessary to fund any additional DVSA testers.
Despite the gloom about the approach taken to delegated testing, ATFOA believes it likely “that some change is coming” to heavy vehicle testing, although it believes that will be a long-term workstream.
More positively, ATFOA has commended the approach to engaging with ATFs shown by DVSA Chief Executive Loveday Ryder. Ms Ryder took up the post on 1 January. She has already met with ATFOA, and the Association has expressed a belief that she listened to its concerns.