28 Aug 2019

Business owners 'frustrated' at Transport Agency delays, say it’s costing them

7:57 am on 28 August 2019

A blowout in waiting times at the Transport Agency is jeopardising garages' business and commercial drivers' livelihoods.

mechanic repairman inspecting car closeup

The Transport Agency recently pushed its 40-working-day processing target out to 60 working days. Photo: 123RF

Operators say they are losing customers, and even the sale of entire workshops, while bureaucrats delay.

Paul Atkin from Hamilton was looking forward to retirement but instead had seen the sale of his TyrePro business fall through.

"I had a buyer," Mr Atkin said. "Got to the stage where they were ready to pay the deposit.

"I did some due diligence on their part and found out it could take up to six months, if not longer, to transfer a warrant of fitness authority.

"At that stage, the potential purchasers walked."

The Transport Agency recently pushed its 40-working-day processing target out to 60 working days.

But Andrew Moffitt who took over Pitstop Te Rapa late last year, has waited 10 months only to learn earlier this month the agency won't let him issue warrants.

"This business has been operating here for, I think it was 18 years, offering, you know, warrants as part of the vehicle servicing. I haven't been able to do it for the last 10 months," said the mechanic of 23 years.

He had been issuing WOFs at the Pitstop before he bought it - but when a business changes hands the new owner must get a new inspecting authority for the site.

"Yeah, definitely frustrated," he said, "and costing us business obviously."

He is appealing the decision, which means more time.

Nick Jackson paid his $1500 fee to NZTA in April and was told to expect a decision on his application to be authorised to issue warrants of fitness for light trailers at his Albany boat business, in 40 working days; it has taken 80, and was a "no".

"They did a police check back in May, and up until we heard on 19 August we hadn't heard anything since," Mr Jackson said.

"We were trying to find out what was happening in the process because we heard nothing, we kept hearing nothing."

The agency has given him advice on having another go - which again means more time.

The Motor Trade Association said it had raised the delays three times with the NZTA, to no avail.

The wait times have blown out since the Transport Agency reversed its lax approach last October and began making extra compliance checks around vehicle inspection organisations and inspectors themselves.

As a result it has issued 25 percent fewer approvals to inspecting businesses than last year (246 in total in 2018, versus 119 so far this year).

These checks have revealed serious flaws that have shut down some existing garages, but also become a hurdle to new businesses setting up - it's taken one Tauranga operator a year to get his WOF authority after buying a garage.

Bus and truck drivers

Bus and truck drivers also face unprecedented delays getting new or renewed passenger or goods licences.

Bay of Plenty lawyer David Pawson has half a dozen cases on the go.

"I recently had a client who was out of work pretty much for six months waiting to get a passenger endorsement sorted out," Mr Pawson said.

"For the working-class people that are then out of work as a result of this, they are very limited in what they can do, they are really at the mercy of the NZTA."

The Bus and Coach Association said some drivers were being denied P licences because their family car had two or three speeding camera tickets over a five-year period. This was unprecedented, it said.

It had already raised the problem with the Transport Minister Phil Twyford and would do so again, it said.

A Bay of Plenty bus driver told RNZ it was only when he got a lawyer involved, that NZTA sped up.

"NZTA may not respond to you and may take forever to do it," Mr Pawson said.

"And there's really nothing in the legislation that prevents them from doing that. I've had a recent occurrence where I filed a notice of appeal to get things moving because, effectively, no decision equals a decision to decline.

"The unfortunate thing for persons having difficulties, particularly with their livelihood is at stake because they've lost an endorsement, like a passenger service, they are often in a position of vulnerability where they can't afford to instruct a lawyer. Also there's no provision for legal aid."

Some of the delays are due to a logjam caused by NZTA evacuating its main processing office in Palmerston North after a poor earthquake assessment.

"Our Palmerston North office was evacuated on 13 June ... and we have limited capacity for processing some applications. We're very sorry for any inconvenience this causes," its website says.

'Blame culture'

Michael Cooper who runs a garage in Frankton said the NZTA "blame culture" was also putting off individual inspectors.

"We're struggling to even get warrant inspectors."

Others are too fearful to protest. An east Auckland garage that has waited seven months and still can't issue WOFs, asked RNZ not to identify it for fear the agency would retaliate.

Andrew Moffitt of Te Rapa hasn't had to lay off anyone yet, and thinks he can prove that, as well as having issued warrants for years, he can manage the business side of inspections too.

But if eventually he loses his appeal, he said, "obviously I'm going to have to downsize the business, involve laying people off".

The agency said it carried out "rigorous" compliance checks, which included obtaining evidence of competency and traffic offending history, to fulfil its purpose of keeping the public safe on the roads.

"The evacuation of our Palmerston North building has affected processing times temporarily, but the main factor in the turnaround time is the length of time it takes to carry out compliance checks," it said in a statement.

It was training staff and automating parts of the process to speed it up, it said.

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