The RAC Foundation has priced UK road congestion at a potential £30Bn a year. The Commission for Integrated Transport forecasts a 65% rise in congestion by 2010, and is reporting traffic jams of three hours a day on more than 11% of key roads. A congested road network, the lorry driver shortage and the WTD all point to the introduction or expansion of an alternative freight transport mode to complement and enhance what is already in place. Non-essential and non-time sensitive freight should be moved in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way.
We can’t continue to use finite resources to move goods, particularly when there is a viable alternative with vast spare capacity. We need to start thinking about using water as an alternative to road. Moving freight by sea and inland waterway can be a more reliable and cleaner option and it will often be cheaper. It will also reduce congestion.
The UK has an unbroken coastline peppered with 600-plus ports, about 100 of which provide commercial cargo facilities handling almost 600 million tonnes of freight annually. Our commercial inland waterway network comprises 2,000km and reaches as far inland as Leeds, Nottingham and central London, giving extensive opportunities to move freight efficiently and without damaging the environment. We are seeing more shippers looking to water to help alleviate transport problems. Retailers such as B&Q use the UK coastline and regional ports to ship 35,000 boxes near to RDCs, improving the supply chain’s reliability and flexibility, reducing cost and removing more than three million lorry miles.
The EC believes that road transport’s true cost must include pollution, effects on climate change, infrastructure costs and congestion. In 2001 it estimated that 92% of these were attributable to road transport, 2% to rail and 0.5% to water transport. The DfT has set up the “Sensitive Lorry Mile” measure to assess the social damage caused. If road paid its true costs we would see much more parity between road and water freight transport. More freight would naturally migrate towards water leaving the road network clearer for essential cargoes and, of course, people.