Thursday, March 12, 2020

Road Haulage Lobby Reacts to Latest Government Look at Traffic Handling Schemes

Trade Bodies React to Smart Motorway Report but Criticise Clean Air Zone Policy
Shipping News Feature

UK – Two of the trade groups most closely associated with carriage of goods by road throughout the country have reacted to the government's report released today which finds smart motorways to be safe but in need of improvement. The simple truth is this would be in part a return to the original concept passed by Transport Minister Sir Mike Penning, but the reneged on by the Highways Agency.

In those original proposals for refuges a maximum of 800 metres apart were mandatory, Highways England which made commitments to the House of Commons in 2016 something Penning, in office from 2010 to 2012, said were ‘casually ignored’ with distances of up to 2,500 metres becoming the norm. This, he said recently, coupled with the absence of the promised Stopped Vehicle Detection system, only deployed on around 6% of the system so far, and a vital safety element, had certainly cost lives.

Now both the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) have commented on the latest developments at length, with both bodies backing the new plans, but with reservations. Chris Yarsley, Policy Manager for Road Infrastructure at the FTA, commented:

“While official figures show smart motorways to be at least as safe as conventional motorways, FTA and its members wholeheartedly support the extra security provisions detailed in the report, measures we have long been urging government to deliver. By improving the safety of these roads, the UK can benefit from a more effective and efficient road network. As such, we are pleased to see their use will continue.

“After discussions with the FTA’s Road Freight Council, a democratic body that determines the FTA’s policy positions on such matters, members were unanimous in a call for a significant increase in public awareness and education on safe use of the smart motorway network; many drivers find the inconsistent road formats confusing. As such, we are pleased to see the government has committed £5 million to fund public awareness campaigns. Our members called for an increase in the number of refuge areas and the roll-out of the stopped vehicle detection system and we are pleased government has listened to them and responded positively.

“The FTA’s members do find smart motorways to be effective in producing more reliable journey times, but safety must always come first; we are pleased to see the government will, through commitments made in the report, provide the logistics industry with the reassurances it seeks.”

“However, the FTA is urging the government to view smart motorways as only a temporary solution to the lack of capacity on the UK’s roads, they should not be used as a permanent replacement to the construction of new roads and improvement of existing infrastructure. After all, businesses rely on effective and efficient road networks to keep goods moving across the UK.

”Our members want to see a nationwide programme of road infrastructure upgrades, rather than these short-term solutions. Under the new plans, we hope to see the dynamic lanes, which are due to be removed, replaced with all lane running, so industry can continue to benefit from the additional infrastructure the lanes have provided.”

Similar sentiments were forthcoming from the body most closely linked to transport of goods on Britain’s highways, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) whose chief executive Richard Burnett welcomed the Secretary of State for Transport’s action plan, saying:

“Mr Shapps is the first Secretary of State for many years who has listened to what we have to say and who is taking action. We have been voicing our concerns about the safety of smart motorways since their introduction in 2006.

“We have always considered there to be too few refuge areas following the initial pilot scheme on the M42 when they were 500 metres apart and we welcome an increase in their number. However, if Smart Motorways are to be smart, they should not have been rolled out before the ‘stopped vehicle detection systems’ were in place across the whole network. Waiting another three years is just too long.”

“I am pleased at Mr Shapps’ announcement that an additional £5 million is to be spent on a national, targeted communication campaign to increase drivers’ understanding of how to use smart motorways properly. In addition to this, we consider it essential that HGV drivers have, mandated into the Driver CPC, a section dedicated to Smart Motorway use. We look forward to working with Mr Shapps and his team to develop and deliver the campaign across the entire UK logistics and supply chain.”

Richard Burnett also took the opportunity to comment on the government plans for Clean Air Zones (CAZs) which he said need reforming as a matter of urgency. Responding to the APPG for Road Freight & Logistics inquiry into Clean Air Zones, the RHA condemned the current approach as expensive, inflexible and ineffective. Criticising the adverse impact of it has on the resale values of non-EuroVI trucks, Burnett observed:

“We all want clean air, but the right policies are needed to achieve it without damaging business. We have consistently pointed out the flaws with the current approach but this seems to have fallen on deaf ears within Government.

“The current policy is seeing hard-working and long-established firms go out-of-business. There are better ways forward. Of course we want to decarbonise our industry but it is vital that Ministers and policymakers learn lessons so that the right framework is in place to address climate change. It must also supports jobs and economic growth.

“With as much as £1.2 billion wiped off the value of the EuroV fleet, CAZ is a grievous body-blow for hauliers. If this wasn’t bad enough, we see the policy as being counterproductive as more vans transport the freight otherwise carried by non-compliant lorries. This will lead to more congestion and a corresponding rise in emissions.”

The RHA wants government to implement an ‘intelligent phasing’ policy whereby the ‘stranded asset’ effect can be mitigated. Failure to do this, it says, will result in business failures, particularly amongst small hauliers, with SME operators going out of business and price rises for consumers.

The Association feels this needs a redesigned policy framework with a more proportionate response that targets the most-polluting vehicles across all vehicle types, and that HGVs and Buses account for just 5% of total NOx emissions.