Senior Traffic Commissioner (STC) Richard Turfitt (pictured) has issued temporary updates to several Statutory Documents considering the challenges facing operators during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Turfitt says that TCs “should recognise the exceptional nature of the operating environment during this period of uncertainty.” Financial standing, access to operating centres, Transport Managers (TMs), service registrations and staff shortages are among the subjects addressed.
Under the emergency guidance, businesses that cannot meet the appropriate financial standing requirements may apply to a TC for a period of grace. The TC can rely on a satisfactory financial check within the past 12 months to support their approval.
When an operator is temporarily unable to access an operating centre due to restrictions, a period of grace may also be applied for.
The TC “will wish to be satisfied as to where vehicles will be parked in the alternative,” says Mr Turfitt. It is recognised that during the outbreak, it could be impractical to apply for a new operating centre that may only be required temporarily.
Mr Turfitt advises that TCs would not normally be notified of periods of short illness when a TM is unavailable. That includes those resulting from the general symptoms described in the current public health guidance, or absences through a 14-day self-isolation period.
However, if a TM is within an at-risk category that more severely limits their ability to attend, they are invited to submit a proposal to the TC on how they will fulfil their requirements during the pandemic. That could include use of technology, says Mr Turfitt.
Should a TM develop more acute symptoms, a period of grace may become necessary. If a TM cannot complete required training, they should notify the TC with a request that they amend the undertaking to allow more time to comply.
For all cases involving the grant of a period of grace, Mr Turfitt says that TCs should adopt a starting point of four months. That could allow for an extension to six months. It is incumbent on the operator to proactively apply for all grace periods.
Where operators wish to adjust or suspend services because of reduced demand or staff availability, they are advised to seek short-notice dispensation. Mr Turfitt encourages the use of the variation provision. It can be done via email outlining basic details and including a timetable where relevant.
Variations can either be submitted with a defined end date – after which services revert to the original timetable – or with open-ended wording to the effect that they will be in place until whichever is sooner: A defined date or further notice.
On condition that the amended service returns to the same timetable that was previously registered, TCs will waive fees for applications that seek to temporarily vary a registration.
Where service levels fluctuate from day to day depending on staff availability, Mr Turfitt says that TCs “will take into account the developing situation” when considering the need for any regulatory action.
“The guidance allows for a flexible approach to the functions carried out by TCs,” he adds. The document issued last week also includes content relevant to operators that have been called to a Public Inquiry, and drivers that are due at a Driver Conduct Hearing.