Neil Barlow, Head of Vehicle Policy and Engineering at DVSA, discusses the key findings of the Heavy Vehicle Testing Review, and how they are being tackled as we move into 2022.
As you know, the current model of annual (MOT) testing has DVSA delivering the MOT test for heavy vehicle operators in privately owned Authorised Testing Facilities (ATFs). So, it’s a model that needs a close partnership to make it work. In 2020, this led to the Department for Transport working with DVSA and industry representatives on the Heavy Vehicle Testing Review. Its purpose was to review the current model for heavy vehicle MOT testing and look at how we could improve it.
The review made six recommendations, but how have these been addressed? It’s fair to say the main theme running through it is about making sure there is the right number of vehicle standards assessors to deliver the flexibility that industry wants.
Other recommendations include things like how to end the temporary suspension on opening new ATFs and how to schedule vehicle standards assessors to ATFs.
Starting to change
The first change to come from the review was to open the market, by ending the pause on applications for new ATFs.
For this first phase, DVSA set some criteria for applications, so that it didn’t adversely impact existing ATFs. But, it will begin to improve the breadth of the service.
In early June 2021, DVSA started accepting applications meeting these criteria. Where these met the criteria, it opened new sites. Where applications didn’t quite meet the criteria, it provided feedback to help applicants.
Since then, DVSA has had 38 applications since lifting the ATF moratorium, and two sites are close to opening.
DVSA also talked to operators and ATFs about how to resolve the balance between how far ahead ATFs can book vehicle standards assessors, against the short notice flexibility that customers – both ATFs and vehicle operators – may need.
This 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. DVSA knows 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, it also knows that flexibility to change things at shorter notice can be important.
So, DVSA has 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.
DVSA delivers the heavy vehicle MOT testing service to vehicle operators in partnership with ATFs. So, the organisation needs to work with both in order to measure success across the whole service.
The things it measures, like the utilisation of its vehicle standards assessors and how often it cancels appointments with ATFs, are important. But they are not the be all and end all. So, a broader set of measures are needed. Transparency is key to making this work, so DVSA will continue to be open about how it is doing.
‘Find an ATF’ service
The review took place during a period of high demand for MOT testing, as the profile of the exemptions led to a peak in demand.
So, in parallel to the review, DVSA developed the ‘Find an ATF’ service. This allows ATFs to share information about short-term MOT test availability and helps vehicle operators to find a test at a nearby ATF. As we again enter another busy period, Neil hopes ATFs will use the service and share information about their capacity. Hopefully, this will help vehicle operators who are finding it hard to get an MOT test.
DVSA is also keen to hear feedback from vehicle operators and ATFs about whether this is a service that goes far enough. For example:
- should it include information about longer-term capacity?
- is there more we can do to help vehicle operators find MOT test appointments?
- does the existing relationship between operators and ATFs mean this service isn’t needed?
What’s been learned?
DVSA set out to learn more over six months ago now, so what progress has been made? Well, the conversations have been really useful. It has heard things it was already thinking about, but also had some helpful and challenging insight in other areas. And it is 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 DVSA to review its process for scheduling testing hours to ATFs? Normally, it books testing hours in quarterly periods. But this is not always helpful for the certainty and flexibility which vehicle operators and ATFs want.
Where will we be in the next year?
By August, Neil wants the DVSA – working together with industry – to have addressed all the recommendations in the review. It will either have implemented a solution or have a clear view about where it is going.
“I want us all to get the high-quality heavy vehicle MOT testing service that we need,” says Neil.
For vehicle operators, this means being able to easily get an MOT test that can sit seamlessly with their routine planned and preventative maintenance, so that they can go about the important business of moving goods and people around the country.
DVSA delivers the MOT test in partnership with ATFs, who are responsible for enabling the service through booking vehicles in – and often delivering this as part of maintenance and repair work. So, DVSA needs to make sure that the way it works helps ATFs provide a quality service to vehicle operators. No one party can do this alone and DVSA’s work with ATFs is critical to delivering the service.
“We also need to make sure that all of our colleagues in DVSA come along on the journey with us,” comments Neil. “It’s a period of change and opportunity as we introduce more flexibility and resource into the service to make it better meet customer needs.”
A longer term view
One of the things Neil is keen to look at is whether DVSA can move to a longer term view of planning and confirming testing resource. This could mean it agrees 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.
DVSA is continuing to carry out research with ATFs and vehicle operators. And it would welcome any feedback on the information contained within this article. The key thing is that the new approach ensures it best meets customer needs.
In terms of timing, DVSA wants to develop these ideas early this year – so it can share the detailed proposals with you. The reality is that any changes cannot happen overnight, particularly as it has already confirmed some of the quarterly booking process for this year.
“I think people will understand we want to get this right if we’re going to make a significant change,” concludes Neil.
While much of DVSA’s time has been focused on scheduling, it has also been looking at the way it measures performance and its overall staffing model. DVSA will provide updates on this in due course.