Transport Committee - Road FreightWritten evidence from the Department for Transport

Thank you for asking me to give evidence to your inquiry into the road freight sector. I welcome this inquiry, as road freight is vital to the economy and it is important that this is recognised. The freight industry is a major employer in its own right, as well as providing essential support to other industries and keeping all of us supplied with the goods we need to live our lives. This letter is not intended to set out everything the Department is doing in respect of the areas of particular interest to the Committee in this inquiry but rather summarises some key initiatives.

The Government’s approach to road freight was set out in the Logistics Growth Review, which was published last November. This identified key barriers to growth in the logistics sector and set out a range of measures to address those barriers. While these included issues for rail freight and ports, road freight remains vital, not least in getting goods from ports and rail terminals to their destination. As well as supporting growth in the road freight sector, and the economy as a whole, we are also taking forward measures which also address the significant contribution that road freight makes to carbon emissions, and to improve air quality. The measures we are taking forward include investment in the strategic road network, trials of longer semi trailers and of low carbon vehicles and infrastructure, as well as improved compliance and enforcement.

The Department has started work on a long term roads strategy, following Alan Cook’s independent review of the Network published in November 2011, which will set clear, long-term goals for the network that strike the right balance between long term growth aspirations and individual user experience. We aim to consult at the end of the year on the strategy, which will provide an essential piece of context for future policies as well as providing the basis for defining our specific performance aspirations for the strategic road network.

Earlier this year we launched a ten-year trial of longer semi-trailers. This will include around 900 semi-trailers of 15.65 metres in length and around 900 are 14.6 metres long. The current standard length for semi trailers is 13.6 metres. This would increase the overall length of an articulated HGV to 18.55 metres, while the maximum permitted length for an HGV in the UK is 18.75 metres for a rigid truck/drawbar trailer combination, which are already in operation. Manoeuvrability tests show they perform as well as existing vehicles. Fewer journeys will be needed to carry the same total volume of goods, as each trailer can carry more goods. The trial is expected to save over 3000 tonnes CO2 over ten years, with overall benefits estimated at £33 million over ten years. Take-up of the new trailers has been rising steadily since allocations were confirmed in February. To date, Vehicle Special Orders have been issued for over 200 vehicles, which are now either on the road or under construction.

The Government is funding a £9.5 million trial of low carbon trucks and their supporting infrastructure to encourage the uptake of heavy goods vehicles whose CO2 emissions are at least 15% lower than those emitted by equivalent diesel vehicles. The Technology Strategy Board is running a competition to award this funding. The competition closed last month and successful bidders will be informed over the summer. The trials will take place over two years and data will be gathered and analysed to demonstrate the wider benefits of low carbon trucks such as potential savings on fuel costs. Investment in gas refuelling infrastructure through the trials, which will be open to other operators, will help encourage other operators to consider using gas or dual-fuelled HGVs.

We continue to take compliance seriously, targeting our enforcement effort on both domestic and non-UK operators to protect road safety and ensure a level playing field. Of the 54,757 UK vehicles examined for traffic enforcement purposes in 2010–11, VOSA prohibited 9,272 16.9% for drivers’ hours and tachograph offences. Of the 67,316 non-UK vehicles examined, VOSA prohibited 10,162 (15.1%) for the same type of offences. In the same period, VOSA weighed a total of 4,792 vehicles, of which 2,759 (57.6%) vehicles were found to be overloaded. Of the total vehicles weighed, 1,546 (58.3%) UK and 1,213 (56.7%) non-UK vehicles and were prohibited. The upcoming interconnection of national registers implemented in every member state as part of new EU rules on access to the occupation that came into force at the end of last year will help our enforcement agencies continue to target the worst offenders.

Truck theft and security is an important issue which Home Office colleagues are most active in tackling. The Government recognises that road freight theft is a largely organised crime, involving networks of individuals through which stolen goods can be passed to realise their value. The Government is creating a new National Crime Agency, which will enhance the fight against serious and organised crime, working closely with local police forces to tackle the offenders involved in such crimes. The work the Department for Transport is doing to promote the use of secure lorry parking facilities offers a contribution to this issue.

The Department did much to ensure that the country entered the 2011–12 winter season well prepared, and has acted upon the recommendations that have arisen from the various winter resilience reports published, including the report last year from the Transport Select Committee. We have been working closely with the Met Office to make sure we have the best advice available to prepare for possible weather impacts. The Met Office for this winter launched improvements to the National Severe Weather Service which allows more targeted forecast of potential impacts from severe weather.

July 2012

Prepared 24th September 2012