ATF network ‘not in crisis’ according to government review11 March 2021

A government review of heavy goods vehicle testing has discovered that the ATF network is generally operating well. Although it acknowledges hauliers’ dissatisfaction with the way it is run on a mismatch between the needs of industry and the cost-efficiency measures of a public body.

First, while some in industry would like to end the moratorium on opening new ATFs, which has been in place since 2017, doing so would require more testers, and likely require raising the testing fee to cover their salaries. Secondly, although some in industry would like to increase the number of testing slots, doing so would again raise costs.

Third, the report stressed that employing independent testers also had consequences for the ATF network: “The need to use independent and state-employed testers spread over many sites necessarily constrains flexibility. It is important to note that genuine independence of testers is fundamental to the objectives of (and indeed legal requirements for) annual vehicle testing.” (Some operators have argued for the ability to test their own vehicles).

In summary, the review says: “The heavy vehicle testing system is not in crisis. Its operation, however, results in a greater degree of wider cost and inconvenience for customers and testing facilities than they believe is reasonable. The efficient use of testing staff required to balance DVSA scheme accounts under managing public money obligations and keep fees down is associated with testing facilities having to operate in ways that may be less than optimally efficient for them or for their customers.”

The report found that DVSA had improved the percentage of cancellations of heavy vehicle test appointments over the past three years. According to DVSA figures, the percentage of ATF reservations met by DVSA was 99.9 from April 2015 to February 2020, except for April 2017-March 2018, when the figure was 98.6%.

The report also found that annual test preparation plays an important role in raising vehicle roadworthiness generally. It says: “There is a disconnect between improving trends in annual test pass rates and static underlying roadworthiness levels, as measured by the fleet compliance survey (random non-targeted checks to assess the ‘state of the fleet’) and picked up by enforcement activities. This indicates that vehicles are heavily prepared for test from their ‘normal’ operating condition. The very existence of the test does create a positive improvement, bringing all vehicles to the minimum standard at least once a year.

However, the review did find that industry has had difficulty engaging with DVSA. It argues that DVSA should consider “a reset of the relationship and way its leadership liaises with representatives of service users in the road freight and passenger industries, as well as providers of testing facilities, in respect of the medium-term development of the testing service.”

It also suggests that DVSA consider permanently reducing the frequency of vehicle testing of participants in the ‘Earned Recognition’ scheme. They were one of several groups of operators allowed to extend their testing intervals as a result of the temporary shortage of testing slots in 2020-2021, which were disrupted by COVID.

A link to the report is below.

William Dalrymple

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