As Low Emission Zones Target Commercial Vehicles Perhaps the Truth Should Come Out
UK – The current debate on airborne pollution, particularly in urban areas, is clearly getting to be a contentious affair. Lorries are seen as a prime cause of damage to health as the government acts, quite rightly to reduce the impact of vehicles on the environment. Meanwhile the road haulage industry pleads that it is doing all it can, but economic reasons demand that this is a wheel which turns slowly. HGV Operators fear, with good reason if history is anything to go by, that giving power to local authorities to introduce low and ultra-low emission zones (ULEZs) may turn out to be a cash cow for councils – and commercial vehicle operators are an obvious and easy target.
As is so often the case the freight industry has trouble in publicising its case and is often dismissed by those in authority as merely whingeing, assuming any extra costs will simply be passed down the line. The public perception is that trucks are big, smoky affairs and only a necessary evil. What so often fails to come across is the disastrous effect that extra costs can have on small and medium sized haulage fleets which ply their trade within our cities and which make up 85% of British truck fleets.
So what are the facts which the industry should be using in its defence? One simple set of statistics can bring the issue into sharp focus. In the post-war period a plethora of truck marques passed along Britain’s motorway free road network. Scammell, Foden, ERF – all British made and nary a thought to emissions in an age preceding the Clean Air Act. According to the RHA in 1946 there were 560,000 HGVs operating on roads in the UK, by 2016 that number had reduced to 405,000 mainly due to bigger trucks and the many vans now on our roads.
What is more is of course how clean the new breed of vehicles has become, the Euro standards have had a dramatic effect, cutting pollution in stages as technology developed and regulations tightened. In May the EU tabled new rules to cut truck pollution by up to another 30% by 2030. Figures from the US show a 90% drop in noxious emissions from trucks in the past 30 years. In the EU the impact of road transport in this matter saw carbon monoxide emissions fall from 65% of all CO produced to just 18% in the 26 years to 2016, and the latest Euro vehicle standards are expected to cut this further as fleets are replaced.
The simple truth then is that, whilst in the 70 years between 1946 and 2016 as truck numbers reduced by that 155,000, cars went from 1.77 million to a staggering 29.492 million on Britain’s roads in the same period. The haulage industry lobby now needs to persuade government that this global problem needs a wide ranging set of solutions and that passing the responsibility to local authorities is liable to result in an unbalanced set of rules and tolls complicating what should be a practical resolution, be it scrappage schemes, phased out Euro classes of engines to a realistic time scale etc.
Anyone who has run a haulage business knows that there is a fine line between profit and loss. The chronic shortage of trained drivers, who these days have to regularly prove their competence, has driven up labour costs as fuel expenses also spiral upward. Older vehicles retain little or no value as they are banned from ever more locations, whilst replacement costs remain high and competition for contracts remain fierce. Officialdom changes things such as vision standards, then mere month’s later changes them again with little or no thought to the practicalities of such moves.
As pressures increase so does the temptation to drop standards with the potential for some, desperate to keep their businesses, cutting back on maintenance and stacking up the potential for far more serious problems for the future. Others may simply decide enough is enough, thereby depriving society of a valuable resource. With a little assistance from central government many of these problems could be resolved.
The drive to cleaner vehicles continues and for urban collections and deliveries there are simple steps which can help alleviate the problems, assistance for purchases of hybrid, electric, and potentially, hydrogen fuel celled vehicles to work on urban delivery cycles whilst the aforementioned scrappage and other measures remain there to be taken. Whilst the hauliers ensure that there is food and medicine in the shops, rubbish is removed and life goes on courtesy of near invisible logistics processes, those 29 million cars motor on regardless.