I was not surprised to read that the new National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) is facing major delays and that operators are having to wait months for accreditation. While they wait, operators are unable to operate legally and have to turn away work.
I predicted that this would happen when I first saw the onerous draft regulations. The old system of provincial Operating Licence Boards that were replaced by PREs had problems as well, mainly because all public transport was lumped together, meaning taxi owners and tour operators had to follow the same process and apply at the same office. Many times I have had to appear before a board of people who had no understanding of tourism and had never run a tourism company, to explain myself and motivate why I should receive an operating licence for my vehicles. And I routinely had to wait six or eight months for a new operating licence.
The idea of the new NPTR was to change that and have a streamlined system in place that would deal only with tourism operators (who do not need route descriptions like taxi owners or scheduled bus services) so that an operator can be accredited once, and then simply get new operating licences for each vehicle as a simple, same-day, over-the-counter transaction (similar to the annual licence discs). Vehicles used to carry passengers for reward are already subject to an annual roadworthy and get two disks. They cannot get their license disk and operator card without the annual roadworthy, so in my view there should be no need for additional vehicle inspections.
Unfortunately the accreditation process ended up being a completely over-the-top bureaucratic nightmare, to the point of ridiculousness (like whether operators have a lost property policy in place). It should not be the NPTR's job to micro-manage or check every aspect of a tour operator's business policies. As I argued in my previous column on the NPTR, their only concern should be whether tourists are transported safely. Beyond sufficient identification of the operator, a tax clearance certificate, and a couple of other documents as outlined in my previous column, there should be no other requirements for a tour operator to get accreditation, and accreditation should not have to be renewed every five years. Once accredited, obtaining individual operating licences should be a simple formality, a same-day transaction.
Instead, the NPTR wants to overregulate and does so without adequate staff to process applications in reasonable time. If the state wants to encourage tourism and job creation, it should remove obstacles and unnecessary regulations, instead of overregulating and overcomplicating things and trying to control every detail of every business.
The NPTR is in need of review, and I would recommend several major adjustments:
- The regulations need to be simplified and reduced to the absolute minimum. Forget silly letters of recommendation. Forget on-site inspections of operator premises. Some of the most reliable companies operate from home. Focus only on essential safety requirements, without doubling what is already in place (for example annual roadworthy certificates).
- The process of reviewing an application should take no longer than an hour. Officials should not have to wade through a pile of irrelevant documents. Within an hour they should be able to check that the necessary documents are in place, capture all the data on the system, ensure that the applicant is tax compliant, and once the official is satisfied, forward to a senior manager for signing off and issuing the accreditation certificate. Do away with board meetings entirely, except perhaps for questionable, non-routine cases that need to be discussed.
- If the NPTR wants to insist on board meetings, they should be held weekly and kept short, to discuss that week's applications. This will avoid delays.
- Triple the staff at the NPTR head office to handle applications in decent time. Alternatively, one could use the provincial PREs to receive and process applications, capture data on the system and recommend approval of the application. Using the available staff of the provincial PREs may avoid a bottleneck, but only if each provincial PRE is functioning properly and efficiently (which is not currently the case). Otherwise an inefficient PRE may be the bottleneck in some provinces. Bottom line is to ensure it takes no longer than two weeks at most to process and approve each accreditation application.
- Accreditation should last for at least 10 years, in order to minimise having to repeat the administrative nightmare when all existing operators have to re-apply. Currently, accreditation is supposed to last five years, but I have heard from operators who received their accreditation with a validity of only two years. There is no good reason why accreditation cannot last for 10 years, like a passport.
- Lastly, and this may be the answer, allow the industry to self-regulate through a body like Satsa. We have seen self-regulation work well with the OSV self-regulation project. At a minimum, self-regulation can perhaps be used to process all accreditation applications of existing operators, while the NPTR handles all applications from new operators. In October last year, I outlined a proposal for how self-regulation can work.
The NPTR is already in place and moving to self-regulation may cause job losses at the NPTR, which the government may want to avoid. But at the moment, the delays at the NPTR may be causing job losses and threatening closures of tourism companies who are unable to operate while waiting months for accreditation. Perhaps a joint self-regulation project can work, where Satsa teams up with the NPTR to streamline the process, simplify the regulations and ensure timely processing of accreditation applications and individual operating licences. At least until all existing operators have received their accreditation.
As it stands, the NPTR is no improvement on the previous system and it cannot continue like this. Instead of facilitating and encouraging tourism, the NPTR is killing tourism.