Heavy vehicle testing review – our latest progress

Neil Barlow, Head of Vehicle Policy and Engineering at DVSA, sets out the next steps about how the government agency is going to improve testing of trucks, coaches and buses

A few months ago, I told you about the things we’ve started to do in response to the Heavy Vehicle Testing Review. I’m really pleased that helped to get some conversations going about your experiences with vehicle testing, especially around what needs to improve.

I’d like to thank everyone who left a comment or reached out to me directly. Getting your thoughts and feedback – and being able to respond to them – really matters for any project that’s looking to improve services for customers.

If you’ve read the blog post about digital changes in vehicle testing by my colleague Danny Charles, you’ll know that service improvement is the core focus across all of our work. So for my latest update, I want to explain how this is driving forward our actions on the Heavy Vehicle Testing Review.

Opening new ATFs

We’ve had 38 applications since lifting the ATF moratorium. 2 sites are close to opening: one is likely to be up and running before Christmas and the others will join the network in the new year.

We will update you more on this in the future – but hopefully our steady approach to improving choice feels right for vehicle operators and ATFs.

A new model for scheduling

In my last blog post, I told you about our plans to talk to vehicle operators and ATFs about finding a way for ATFs to book testing hours which works for everyone.

For me, that solution is really important because getting things joined up between DVSA and ATFs for the end customer – vehicle operators, leasing companies and other vehicle users – is key to making the service work better.

We know from the Heavy Vehicle Testing Review that the current way of scheduling testing hours to ATFs does not always let operators book as far ahead as they might want to. But we also know that flexibility to change things at shorter notice can be important.

So we’ve been carrying out some deeper research into this, through focus groups with ATFs and vehicle operators. The sessions have looked at: how tests are booked, how the process works for customers and how it fits in with their maintenance regimes.

What we’ve learned

The conversations have been really useful. We’ve heard things we were already thinking about but also had some helpful and challenging insight in other areas. And we’re planning to run more focus groups to build on this feedback, particularly with vehicle users.

Two key themes have come out so far. One is around certainty, which is something that’s critical for many operators. This is understandable, because vehicles and trailers need to be part of a planned and preventative maintenance system. So having certainty about when and where tests are scheduled is important.

The other theme is about flexibility. This can be particularly important for smaller operators, for example if the ownership of a vehicle changes at short notice, or where a vehicle ends up in a different location.

So how does this help us to review our process for scheduling testing hours to ATFs? Normally, we book testing hours in quarterly periods. But this is not always helpful for the certainty and flexibility which vehicle operators and ATFs want.

A longer term view

One of the things I’m keen to look at is whether we can move to a longer term view of planning and confirming testing resource. This could mean we agree testing hours with ATFs over a rolling 13 month period, for example.

There would need to be a process to enable short-term adjustments, whether that’s for the ATF to add some extra days, or maybe to cancel some. Hopefully this type of approach would enable ATFs to give vehicle users the service that they need – offering certainty, but also enabling flexibility.

As I said, we’re continuing to carry out research with ATFs and vehicle operators. And we’d welcome your feedback on this blog post. The key thing is that the new approach ensures we best meet customer needs.

In terms of timing, we want to develop these ideas early in the new year – so we can share the detailed proposals with you. The reality is that any changes cannot happen overnight, particularly as we’ve already confirmed some of the quarterly booking process for 2022.

But I think people will understand we want to get this right if we’re going to make a significant change.

Looking ahead

While much of our time has been focused on scheduling, we’ve also been looking at the way we measure performance and our overall staffing model.

Neil Barlow is Head of Vehicle Policy and Engineering at DVSA. His role involves determining the policy around annual vehicle testing (MOTs) on cars and heavy vehicles, enforcement of safety rules and vehicle safety recalls. He also heads up the team which monitors the market for vehicles and parts which aren’t meeting regulations.

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