There’s one 50 year anniversary this year which many will not have heard of, but which still has a massive impact to this day. We’re referring to the 1968 Transport Act. This was a wide-ranging piece of legislation covering many aspects of road, rail and waterway transport. However, it also restructured road transport, with that basic structure continuing to this day.
Up to 1968, road transport legislation had changed little since the 1930s. There was no separate HGV driving test – just a minimum driving age of 21 for goods vehicles. There was also no HGV roadworthiness test and no restriction on driver’s hours.
It was also extremely hard for newcomers to enter the business. Goods carrying vehicles containing goods belonging to others for payment required a C or Commercial licence. Issue of these was in the hands of local committees, but these committees always included existing hauliers. When applying for a new C licence, an applicant had to provide evidence of the work they had lined up. In other words, they had to provide commercially-sensitive information to a committee that included their direct competitors! Unsurprisingly, most applicants found their work ‘disappeared’ after submitting an application – and with no work, the application couldn’t be processed.
The Transport Act changed all that. An independent Operator Licensing system was established under which operators needed to meet minimum standards of honesty and competence, and the system was overseen not by committees but by government-appointed local Traffic Commissioners. TCs also had – and have – responsibility for ‘discipline’ within the industry and sanctions including reducing the number of vehicle licences temporarily or permanently and, ultimately, power to revoke an operator’s licence. TCs operate totally independently of the government, in much the same way as judges.
Operators were also required to hold a Certificate of Professional Competence, or employ a CPC holder as transport manager. Obtaining a CPC involved studying for and passing an examination. HGV lorry testing was also introduced, along with a separate HGV Driving Test and restrictions on driver’s working hours.
The Act also changed the bus industry significantly, paving the way for the establishment, from January 1 1969, of the state-owned National Bus Company and Scottish Transport Group of the merger/nationalisation of companies run by the state-owned Transport Holding Company and privately owned British Electric Traction. It also allowed the formation of passenger transport executives in large urban conurbations. On the same date, British Road Services was renamed the National Freight Corporation, with the parcels operation being rebranded Roadline. The NFC was eventually sold to its employees in 1982.
While most of the bus industry structure created by the Act has disappeared under privatisation, the basic Traffic Commissioner-based management of road haulage has remained to this day, along with the qualification requirements for a Transport Manager.