Firstly, don’t panic! You may feel like losing the will to live when reading the words “TfL and Cyclists stay back stickers”, but it won’t hurt, I promise. It’s just that there are serious issues about Transport for London and its Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) in their approach to fleet safety in general, and lorry safety – specifically for pedestrians and cyclists in London – in particular.
The latest episode in the saga of “Cyclists stay back” and other warning stickers shows TfL continuing its long refusal to behave responsibly on this issue, as well as failing to work co-operatively with its cycling partners. Above all, it raises worrying questions about Tfl’s commitment towards the headline issue of lorry safety in London.
A brief timeline
Let’s summarise this as swiftly as possible to avoid tedium.
July 2013: First direct complaints to TfL about Cyclists stay back stickers. No substantive response until October
December 2013: We in the Road Danger Reduction Forum raise concerns about the use of “Cyclists stay back” stickers.
February 2014: We come together in a coalition with the London Cycling Campaign, CTC (National cyclists’ charity), TABS (The Association of Bikeability Schemes), RoadPeace (The national road crash victims’ charity). At other times in this sage we are joined by the London Boroughs Cycling Officers’ Group to work out a solution with Transport for London (TfL) and its Fleet operators Recognition Scheme (FORS).
April 2014: TfL reply in an unjustifiably negative way and we respond back accordingly
May 2014: TfL show a (we try to be polite) unhelpful response to our offer.
June 2014: Hooray! TfL invite us in for a meeting and we sort out solutions
Sticker wordings on buses and HGVs are to be changed (and this has since happened with buses, and in many cases with HGVs). TfL agree that any kind of warning stickers on vehicles under 3.5 tonnes: small lorries, cars and vans which don’t have a “blind spot” issue and where drivers can see cyclists with wing mirrors, will be removed from FORS members’ vehicles. A web site page will have information on why this is the case, and non-FORS members can be informed by members of the public that TfL/FORS are against this and why.
So partnership works and everything is settled.
Except it wasn’t.
February 2015: Things didn’t seem to be progressing after all, as we show here
March 2015: We comment on the lack of progress and more general issues about lorry safety and why it’s important for cyclists and pedestrians in London
(Note: if you read these last two posts you should get a good idea about all the important points about HGV safety in London, including its position in the overall road danger picture)
March 2015: And then, just to show that we are trying to be constructive, we explained to concerned individuals how they could complain to FORS using official channels to help resolve problems . Nobody could accuse us of not trying to be helpful, but…
May 2015. It now appears that FORS is NOT prepared to take any action against its members using stickers on cars, vans and small lorries without blind spots. We explain (again) what’s wrong and (see postscript) write to TfL again requesting action, or at least a meeting to discuss ways of resolving this apparently interminable problem
(June 2015: All of this takes place in the context of other lorry safety issues such as this )
June 2015. We get a response from Leon Daniels of Transport for London (see APPENDIX below for full text). Frankly, all the organisations involved were – being polite again – very disappointed to see that no action seems to be taken to ensure that FORS members do not display stickers on the wrong vehicles.
I’ll summarise the RDRF view of Daniels’ reply before doing what’s really important – putting it in the overall context of TfL/FORS attitude towards fleet and lorry safety.
The June 2015 response from TfL’s Leon Daniels.
The key sentences in his letter are:
“We are concerned that by continuing to focus disproportionately on this single issue we risk the credibility of FORS and potentially undermine the way fleet operators view the scheme. This could ultimately lead to some operators leaving the scheme and choosing not to invest in cyclist safety, something neither of us wants.”
In a brief response to Leon Daniels, I wrote:
“We all believe that FORS ensuring its requirements are met in this area would strengthen its effectiveness, rather than “risking its credibility”. We are also all fully aware of TfL/FORS’ various initiatives and efforts in the area of HGV safety: we are not interested solely in the warning stickers issue or believe we are focusing “disproportionately on this single issue”. Finally, we are disappointed that you are unable to agree to our suggestion for a meeting to discuss this matter.”
So, after a good year and a half of communication with their partners (or at least stakeholders) TfL simply can’t make a small effort to enforce a simple requirement on members of its scheme, which they have already been informed of.
How important is all this?
Our objection (supposedly accepted by TfL) is that stickers on vehicles where drivers can see cyclists through using their near side wing mirrors have adverse effects:
- It works against Highway Code Rules 159, 161, 163, 169, 180, 182, 184, and 202 reminding drivers of an important obligation (interestingly, at a time when the AA ran a campaign highlighting this requirement).
- It facilitates – and is experienced as – an aggressive attitude by some drivers of these vehicles.
- We believe that the plethora of all manner of signs of this nature may lead to cyclists ignoring the advice where it matters, namely cycling up the near side of HGVs with blind spots – the original justification for warning stickers.
But how much does it really matter? There are plenty of more important issues to be dealt with regarding HGV safety – we will detail these in our next post. But we believe this episode is important in telling us about TfL’s attitude to its stakeholders, the length of time taken over a simple issue, and indeed the role of FORS.
Sometimes relatively minor issues can be revealing.
What is FORS for?
Take a look at the photo of a vehicle (taken in July 2015) belonging to a FORS member. It shouldn’t have any cyclist warning sticker.
The van belongs to A-Plant who have:
“…also recently become the first plant, tool and equipment rental company in the UK to achieve Whole Fleet Accreditation (WFA) under Transport for London’s Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS). The firm is only the second company in the whole country to secure nationwide accreditation which applies across A-Plant’s 135-strong Service Centre network and its entire transport fleet. The process involved a stringent audit of A-Plant’s 1,475 vehicle fleet, comprising cars, vans and HGV’s. The purpose of FORS is to raise the level of quality within fleet operations and to demonstrate which operators are achieving best practice in terms of safety, fuel efficiency, driver training and reducing vehicle emissions.”(My emphases)
A-Plant has scooped two major awards at the inaugural London Construction Awards.
Here is a van belonging to FORS Silver standard member JC Decaux (July 2015)
and although the photo below was taken last year, J Murphy and Sons (FORS Gold standard) still have vans carrying cyclist warning stickers.
Would it really be so hard to ask these FORS high flyers to remove stickers the next time their vehicles are being cleaned?
Do we have an “All shall have prizes” culture in FORS in which accreditation is awarded but where compliance with “achieving best practice in terms of safety…” may not be checked up on?
We hope not. Indeed, TfL sometimes seem to be giving out a different message to the one given to the coalition of cyclist and road danger reduction organisations. This year Darren Johnson MLA asked this question at the London Mayor’s Question Time:
Inappropriate use of cyclist warning stickers: Question No: 2015/1512
Thank you for your answer to question 2015/0852. What steps are TfL taking specifically to get all Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) registered vehicles below 3.5 tonnes such as small lorries, vans and cars which do not have a blind spot to remove ‘cyclist stay back’ stickers?
Written response from the Mayor
The Highway Code’s Rule 159 describes how vehicles of all sizes have blind spots and describes them as the areas around the vehicle which a driver is unable to see either directly or by using mirrors. Vehicle blindspots increase the risks to other road users, particularly cyclists and pedestrians
The FORS standard require fleet operators to fit approved blind spot warning signage to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight, as these vehicles have larger blind spots. FORS guidance on approved blind spot warning signage is very clear and has been communicated to all FORS accredited operators via e-news bulletins, the FORS website and in FORS training and toolkits.
FORS has distributed around 65,000 approved blind spot warning signs and these are sent out with guidance on how they are to be used. This and further guidance on signage requirements is now available on the FORS website and can be viewed here: http://www.fors-online.org.uk/cms/warning-signage.
The FORS audit process checks that approved blind spot warning signage is fitted to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight. It marks down operators that use non-approved or badly placed stickers or where this signage is fitted to smaller vehicles.(My emphasis)
Since my response to 2015/0852, TfL has made several communications to FORS operators on appropriate signage making clear that blind spot stickers should not be applied to smaller vehicles and the FORS accreditation criteria has been updated to reflect the new advice. (My emphasis)
Operators who are not accredited to FORS may choose to use a range of styles of hazard warning signage. TfL is working with the industry to promote the use of consistent signage by operators. (My emphasis)
This is all very puzzling. If TfL/FORS indeed “marks down operators…where…signage is fitted to smaller vehicles” why are they giving the highest grades to members who are doing just that and – more importantly – why are they telling us that to do so would “risk the credibility of FORS”? Why are London Boroughs claiming to be supporting the Mayor’s Cycling Vision applying for even higher grades of FORS membership (LB Islington applying for an upgrade from bronze to silver, to take just one example) getting away with flouting such a simple requirement?
The coalition of cyclists and road danger reduction organisations has suggested for TfL/FORS for a year now that , although FORS has no responsibility for non-members, it could explain on its website in ways which could be communicated to them what the problems with cyclist warning stickers are. We have tried to work with FORS on this issue, without response. We now hear that “TfL is working with the industry to promote the use of consistent signage by operators”, which would be good, but we haven’t seen any evidence of this process.
An aside: Pedestrian warning stickers
Last year we also pointed out that a number of pedestrian warning stickers ordering people to – presumably – not walk down the pavement if “anywhere near” many vehicles may have problems. This has been picked up in a recent issue of the transport professionals fortnightly, Local Transport Today (26/06/2015):
If the vehicle belongs to a FORS member, surely the point is not where the sign comes from, but whether FORS members should be using them?
Why do companies join FORS?
Membership of FORS is increasingly necessary for contractors to fulfil the procurement requirements of their potential clients. While having good procurement criteria and a scheme to supervise them is necessary and a step forward in accountability in the freight industry, there is an obvious problem here. To be blunt: many transport professionals believe that some freight operators join FORS in order to secure work, without necessarily having any interest in implementing high (or even necessary) standards of practice.
Of course, many freight operators have an obvious commitment towards better standards of safety, as well as other areas such as fuel efficiency. There is no doubting their commitment, whether through a simple desire to behave as well as possible, or plain good business sense. The point is that such commitments may not exist for all freight operators in London. Our thoughts are that more rigorous accreditation processes are required for a regime which functions effectively – along with other measures such as policing – to reduce lorry danger properly
What the stickers issue has raised is a general concern about FORS. Has TfL been reluctant to act on our calls over the misuse of stickers because of threats to their credibility? We remain sceptical. Or is it that FORS members would simply continue to break this – and maybe other – criteria, forcing FORS to spend time and resources demoting companies in London and elsewhere?
What FORS could have been doing
As TfL constantly remind us, it has pushed initiatives for cyclist safety focusing on changes in the operation of HGVs in London. Indeed, until changes in highway infrastructure come into place soon, this has been the one area where there has been significant work by TfL for cyclist safety. But over the last two years or so this appears to have gone off the boil.
For example, LB Ealing promoted a system (Cycle Safety Shield) which has already been through a thorough six month independent trial (with LCC amongst others acting as independent testers). It has successfully rolled this out to their entire contractor fleet, saving them fuel costs, improving driver behaviour, and avoiding lots of potential collisions. (I don’t have any links any more with LB Ealing, nor does RDRF have any links with CSS). Given that proven collision avoidance technology clearly exists, why is TfL not rolling this out on its own fleet and actively encouraging others to do so, when organisations such as Ealing Council have already done so and are reaping the benefits?
The wider point raised by all of this is:
How is FORS membership audited? How do we know that operators are not just applying just to win work, but don’t implement FORS criteria?
Our next post looks at the kind of programme TFL could support for HGV safety in London. We think that a key element – which should be organised by the incoming Mayor in 2016 – is a more rigorously effective and transparent FORS regime.
APPENDIX: Letter from Leon Daniels
Apologies for poor image – click on image for more detail