The quality of our air has become a hot political issue over the last few months with the government coming under increasing pressure to clean up the air we breathe. The problem is most acute in our towns and cities; indeed, research from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Lancet Countdown shows that 44 UK cities are in breach of recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for air quality. The government’s response to this thus far has been to increase fuel duties – especially for diesel vehicles – and for local authorities to introduce extra congestion charging – as with London’s T-Charge – and to plan for zero emission zones in urban centres.
All this is bad news for the trucking and haulage industries. A 3.8 tonne truck produces about the same level of pollution as 150 cars, according to figures from the Clean Air Trust. With hauliers and other truck and lorry owners already struggling with rising fuel prices, the challenge of finding cheap truck insurance and a shortage of qualified HGV drivers, further restrictions are the last thing the industry needs.
So, are we looking at the beginning of the end for the truck and haulage industry as we know it or will cleaner technology and changes to working practises save the day? In this latest blog from Coversure Dudley, the truck insurance specialists, we’ll look at this in detail and decide whether emissions will be the death of trucking.
Cities To Become Truck Free Zones?
With 40,000 premature deaths being attributed to poor air quality in the UK each year according to the Royal College of Physicians, something obviously needs to be done. Diesel fumes have been singled out as a particular problem owing to the high levels of nitrogen dioxide or NOx and the government has stated its determination to make Britain diesel-free by 2040.
Now while 2040 is far enough into the future at present for truck owners not to have to worry too much yet, the authorities are already taking action. London has its T-Charge which charges drivers of highly polluting vehicles a total of £21.50 a day to come into the city. 2019 will see the introduction of an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) and by 2025 the Mayor wants the centre of the capital to be a zero-emission area. Oxford has announced similarly ambitious plans with petrol and diesel vehicles to be prohibited from entering the city centre from 2020 and an outright ban city-wide by 2035. It’s also likely that at least some of the 44 cities named in the latest WHO report are likely to follow suit as they are currently breaking the law and could face hefty fines.
This presents two big issues: increased costs and, potentially far more problematical, reduced access and reduced delivery routes.
Diesels: Taxed Out Existence?
Diesel vehicles of all kinds have come in for particularly bad press of late and the government’s response thus far has been to discourage future ownership. Tax on more polluting vehicles (i.e. diesels) have been rising and it would take a brave person to bet against seeing another hike in rates come the Budget. The response of the major manufacturers toward diesels has been to either offer car scrappage schemes or to pledge to switch production to low and ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs). Of the ones who have made this announcement only Volvo are a major truck manufacturer and they have been pretty tight-lipped on what their lorry division is doing in this direction, so no help there as yet.
Technology To Deliver A Solution?
In the short-term then, at least, things seem set to get tougher rather than easier for truck owners. Unlike private car owners, truckers cannot simply trade-in their vehicles, take the park and ride into a city centre or switch their destinations at will. Help maybe at hand, however, in the shape of electric trucks and alternative methods of last mile distribution. Let’s look at these in turn.
The development of electric trucks Is nowhere near as advanced as it is for electric cars, but there’s been more progress than you might think. Daimler have already unveiled their electric lorry and Tesla’s much anticipated semi-truck isn’t far away. Add to this the hush-hush development work of manufacturers such as Volvo, GM and Ford – who already have electric vans on the road – and we could be on the verge of an electric vehicle revolution.
If this technology can be made to work – and the key issues remain charging times and vehicle range – then they could bring a host of benefits to hauliers. With running costs of around 7p per mile lower than a diesel, greater levels of reliability, cheaper repair costs and an exemption from many congestion charges, there are a lot of potential benefits to them. Yes, they are more scarce at present and will be more expensive in the short-term but the costs will come down as they become more widespread and they will obviously not have the threat of elimination owing to their emissions level hanging over them.
Destination: Out Of Town?
The barring of polluting vehicles from urban centres presents a significant challenge for both hauliers and those in need of having goods delivered. While the arrival of the internet has seen a boom in online shopping that can be served by couriers from out of town distribution centres to private addresses, the high street – and particularly supermarkets – need bulk deliveries that can only be carried by trucks. Electric trucks could evade any potential ban on the basis of emissions, but is a more radical solution required in the long-term as city centres become pedestrianised and open only to smaller vehicles?
Some in the trucking industry are debating whether we should look to changing delivery routes so they avoid centres, delivering instead to distribution nodes where loads are broken down into smaller vehicles. Others are suggesting an even more radical change, with an on-demand delivery service from these nodes that is driven by stock being replenished by wireless ordering from the stores themselves. This is, in effect, an extension of the working practices used by firms such as Toyota. The benefits include less waste – especially for goods with a shelf life – and they drive a more efficient supply chain. In terms of truck operators, it could be another way of future-proofing their businesses.
Will Emissions Be The Death Of Trucking?
It’s increasingly clear that the way trucks operate and the sort of truck fleets we run are set to change. Environmental concerns, changes in technology and the way business is organised will all bring in changes, but this is this the death of trucking? No, the industry remains integral to industry and while it will have to adapt and change, history shows that this is something that truckers do rather well…
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