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NZTA toughening up safety enforcement, hiring more inspectors

News from NZTA
The NZ Transport Agency has an extensive review of compliance files underway and is toughening up its enforcement regime. An increase in the number of suspensions and other legal action is expected to follow as a result of review findings to date.

In late September the NZ Transport Agency Board engaged law firm Meredith Connell (MC) to review 850 open compliance files. Meredith Connell is now leading the regulatory function within the Transport Agency.

The Transport Agency regulates all vehicles on the roads and licenses people working in the transport sector. In response to the file review and issues identified through the investigation of recent heavy vehicle certifier suspensions, NZ Transport Agency Chief Executive Fergus Gammie says it is clear that major improvements are needed.

“For many years, the NZTA has operated a high trust, devolved regulatory regime, working with a network of qualified professionals to carry out services and focusing on ongoing education to address issues.

“It is clear that our approach has not been sufficiently robust to categorically ensure the highest levels of regulatory compliance. The Transport Agency has been too reliant on self-regulation and has not devoted enough attention or resource to ensuring compliance. We want to be up front with the public. We know we have to do better, and we accept our responsibility to fix it.”

While this review is ongoing, it has already identified a range of non-compliance across the regulatory areas overseen by the Transport Agency.

Of the 850 open compliance files, 152 have been prioritised around risk to safety. The review of these files, further investigations and actions are expected to be complete by early November. Work will continue on the remaining files.

“We have taken an exceptionally firm and prudent approach, deliberately casting a wide net to review files from all of the regulatory areas for which NZTA is responsible, encompassing issues from the very minor to the very serious. I assure the public this review is thorough and far reaching.

“The public can expect full accountability and an increased number of enforcement actions taken to ensure compliance. The Transport Agency has now instigated a risk-based approach to addressing any non-compliance where public safety could be at risk, giving priority to the most urgent cases. Where suspension is necessary to ensure public safety, the Transport Agency will take action.

“Increased enforcement actions will be immediately visible as final decisions are made on each file regarding the appropriate corrective action required. The Transport Agency team is committed to swiftly improving how regulatory compliance is enforced,” Mr Gammie said.

The Transport Agency is in the process of hiring additional compliance inspectors to cover heavy vehicle certifiers and Warrant of Fitness (WoF) and Certificate of Fitness (CoF) certifications. Certifiers and licence holders will be required to quickly address issues identified, or face action. On top of this, the NZTA is proposing to establish a newly focused regulatory division, with increased resourcing and capability.

The Transport Agency has recently appointed two additional heavy vehicle engineers and two additional auditors, with a third being recruited. Recruitment is also underway for 17 additional Warrant of Fitness and Certificate of Fitness inspectors.

“We are calling on both our regulatory partners and those sectors which we regulate – such as the heavy vehicle industry and transport operators – to continue to work alongside NZTA and to accept their own roles in ensuring regulatory compliance,” Mr Gammie said.

To ensure the review of compliance is as thorough as possible, the NZ Transport Agency is establishing an anonymous and independently monitored ‘whistle blower’ phone line. If industry workers or members of the public have any information or concerns about non-compliance they will be able to call an 0800 number. Details will be provided within the next few days.

NZTA will provide further updates as the review continues.

BusinessDesk report by Pattrick Smellie
Self-regulation by vehicle inspection and licencing providers has failed, says the chair of the New Zealand Transport Agency, Michael Stiassny, who discovered after his appointment in April that they haven’t followed up on evidence of non-compliance.

Stiassny has been tasked with moving quickly to change the agency’s focus from education to enforcement of non-compliance and clean up what Transport Minister Phil Twyford claimed was years of underfunding and under-performance by the department’s administration of vehicle inspection and licencing.

At a press conference with Twyford and NZTA chief executive Fergus Gammie, Stiassny described how the board had uncovered a problem with the way compliance issues were being handled that was serious enough to call in law firm Meredith Connell to review 850 open compliance files, of which 152 require urgent legal or investigative review.

Twyford said the problem boiled down to a combination of “process failures and under-resourcing”, which became more acute after restructuring and staff departures in the compliance section of the agency in 2014.

The agency was chaired at the time by current Meridian Energy chairman Chris Moller and led by founder chief executive, Geoff Dangerfield. The National Party leader Simon Bridges served as Minister of Transport from October 2014 to October 2017, but Twyford did not explicitly blame any previous office-holders for the issue, which raises the prospect of an unknown number of vehicle inspectors and licence-issuers having their status either suspended or revoked.

Both Stiassny and Twyford said there was no evidence of deaths or injuries on New Zealand roads as a result of poor compliance and they were unclear yet as to whether findings from the current inquiry could require vehicle re-inspections or some drivers licence holders having to re-sit their tests.

While serious, Twyford said the number of inspection and licence-issuing providers represented only 1.5 percent of the total operating in New Zealand. Some 45,000 providers hold transport service licences and another 12,000 hold vehicle certification licences. Non-compliance was found among both small and large-scale providers, said Stiassny, who expected the numbers of suspensions and revocations reported on the NZTA website would start to increase in coming weeks.

The government’s top priority was to investigate and fix the problem. Accountability and possible sanctions or job losses would only be considered once the situation was under control, Twyford said.

In part, the issue’s emergence reflected shifting attitudes to health and safety.

“This failure, in my view, was in part a result of a reduced focus on the agency’s regulatory role over the last decade,” he said. “Staff were redeployed and there was an emphasis on education rather than enforcement. This was exacerbated in 2014 when the agency lost staff from its heavy vehicle compliance team.”

The issue disclosed today relates to inspection and certification of all vehicles, not just heavy transport.

Stiassny said that “since Adam was a boy”, New Zealanders had known there were some providers who issued warrants of fitness or drivers licences more easily than others, but NZTA had taken a deliberate decision to favour provider education over enforcement.

“Put simply, the way we engaged with people was to work with them in a way that allowed the party concerned to almost drive the agenda rather than, as a regulator, take the necessary steps,” said Stiassny. “We have got into a habit of a very self-regulating environment and there are consequences from that.”

These included lax vehicle inspections, logbook maintenance and weight recording.

Asked whether there would be job losses at NZTA because of the discovered failings, Stiassny said the first priority was fixing the issue before considering issues of accountability or consequences.

“Today’s objective is not a witch-hunt. It is public safety,” he said. “To stand everyone down might make some people feel good, but it wouldn’t achieve anything.”

(BusinessDesk)

3 comments:

  1. Save the Basin, 15. October 2018, 21:41

    Lesson: don’t allow a road-building agency to regulate vehicle safety.

     
  2. Cecil Roads, 16. October 2018, 8:04

    Sounds like over-complicating everything! How many fatalities have resulted from the slightly imperfect system? How much is this going to cost in time and resources – I foresee mountains of e_paper. Sensible pragmatic testing by experienced folk is what is required. 5,000 page legal documents detailing how inspectors should work down to correct lengths of the electronic tick marks will make life even more of a tangled mess of electronic red tape.

     
  3. Michael Gibson, 16. October 2018, 9:12

    I have had nothing to do with the NZTA and have no idea of their powers and responsibilities. All I can say is that their performance at the Select Committee enquiry into our buses was even more pathetic than all the local politicians and Council CEOs combined.