Channel challenges for road hauliers
Ask any long-distance UK haulier what the biggest problem they experience is, and he or she will probably answer Channel crossings. “Operation Stack” was at its worst in 2015 when a queue of 4,600 lorries covered 30 miles of the M20, and was calculated to be costing the UK economy around £250 million daily.
This year’s Operation Stack strategy contains a new element, Operation Brock, which will create a contraflow on the northbound M20 between junctions 8 and 9 while the lorries stack on the other side. The Department for Transport (DfT) is also aiming to improve overnight lorry parking, giving drivers better access to facilities and preventing the current problem of HGVs being parked up on local roads for required rest periods.
Unfortunately for many road hauliers, this system won’t begin until early 2019, on conjunction with work being done on the northbound hard shoulder to improve local access and reduce the tendency to divert traffic onto local roads. Local residents had reached the point of barricading certain roads in 2015, only allowing access to cars and forcing lorries to seek alternative routes.
HGV Parking in crisis
The National Survey of Lorry Parking shows that in 2017 the shortage of spaces for overnight lorry parking led to drivers being harassed and attacked and vehicles being vandalised and robbed. As a result the DfT has asked private developers to create a further 1,000 spaces across the UK and suggested that Highways England make it a priority to identify areas where it holds land that could provide another 1,500 parking spaces. 2,500 new lay-ups across the UK will barely make a dent in the overall need but it’s hoped that monetisation of the process (including toilets and showers and meal deliveries for example) could give private landlords a reason to make space available while waiting for planning decisions to pass through local councils.
Adding a stick to the carrot of new park-ups, a trial scheme in Kent has given the local council stronger powers to move on and fine hauliers who park up on the roadside. In its first six months of operation the scheme has halved the amount of commercial vehicles being clamped for overnight parking offences. It’s not clear whether this is because of on-the-spot fines or whether the driver network has simply informed drivers to move past that area of Kent before parking up.
Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill progress
It might sound as dry as dust, but this bill, currently in its second reading in the House of Lords is the lifeblood of the haulage industry, post Brexit. It contains the power for the Home Secretary to create an international road haulage permit system to replace the current EU structure and also gives the Secretary of State the limit to create a trailer registration scheme for UK transport. The haulage trade between the UK and EU generates £110 billion annually so road transport legislation that harmonise with any new EU partnership agreement are a vital prerequisite for future activity.
It also presents an opportunity for road haulage bodies to get their views across to a government that has stressed its desire to improve the legal structures of the UK so that trade can be enhanced and barriers to progress are removed. Many haulage bodies are currently involved in the debate process, lobbying for changes to improve the position of road hauliers.
Driver shortages impacting road haulage and logistics
Yet again a survey has shown that the biggest worry for managers in logistics and road haulage is the shortage of experienced drivers. The research was conducted by the Asset Alliance Industry Monitor (AAIM) and revealed that over half the senior managers in motor transport businesses think the major limited to growth is a shortage of skilled drivers. This ranked ahead of new legislation limiting diesel engine use, worries about Brexit and the economic outlook for the UK.
A parallel survey by the Unite Union has discovered that 29% of HGV drivers and road hauliers admit they have fallen asleep at the wheel. Over 4,000 drivers were involved in the survey. 64% of those who said they had ‘drifted off’ while driving blamed long working hours and few opportunities to rest. Combined with the AAIM survey, this paints a bleak picture of the UK road haulage industry at present, with fewer available skilled drivers being put under ever great pressure by ‘last mile’ delivery systems and feeling challenged by crowd-sourced delivery apps to work harder, make more drops and drive longer hours. Once again the lack of available lorry stops and the fear of having a vehicle robbed or broken into all contribute to driver stress and fatigue. Interestingly, the places that drivers are often forced to stop contribute strongly to their fatigue with:
- 65% saying sleeping in lay-bys makes them tired
- 67% reporting fatigue if they spend the night on the roadside
- 62% claiming that a night spent in the car park of a service station contributes to fatigue.
Driverless vehicle legal progress
While driverless vehicles are being trialled at various places across the UK, mainly on university campus sites where there is no other road traffic, the legislative mechanisms that will permit or deny the use of driverless vehicles has taken several steps forward:
New laws from June allow drivers to use remote control parking and motorway assistance. They are designed both to help less able drivers access the road network with greater equality, and to improve fuel use thereby benefiting air quality. Underlying the new legislation is a desire to harmonise UK driving law to support automated driving technology.
The government has also ordered a review into road legislation to ensure that self-drive vehicle development is not being held back by UK laws. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has expressed pleasure in this news, saying that it reveals the government’s commitment to helping the UK remain a player in the world of autonomous vehicle development by supporting the roll-out of UK designed vehicles inside the UK.