Platooning trial plan highlights industry differences

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Government plans to trial truck platooning have received an enthusiastic welcome from the Freight Transport Association – but a much more cautious response from the Road Haulage Association.

On-road trials are due to take place next year as part of DHL’s regular logistics operations.

“Technology is the solution to emissions, road safety and managing costs,” said Christopher Snelling, the FTA’s head of national policy. “Platooning count be a real opportunities to optimise logistics on the road – we need to know if it is the way forward as soon as possible.”

DAF truck platooning

DAF trucks in last year’s European platooning trial.

Anything that cuts road transport costs has the potential hit profit margins in road haulage. And cheaper road transport will probably be bad news for the rail freight sector.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “Of course we welcome improvements to the way the road freight industry works and we understand the benefits that such a mode of operation would bring.

“However, currently the focus seems to be on the technology behind the system. Safety has to come first and it cannot be compromised. It is crucial that this element of the concept gets the highest priority.”

Trade union Unite was even more forthright: “While Unite isn’t against the use of technology that makes our members’ jobs easier, it should not come at the cost of jobs and wages of highly skilled lorry drivers,” said national officer Adrian Jones.

“As well as major issues around safety, there’s a whole host of practical issues such as the order of a convoy where different hauliers are involved.

“No haulier will want its lorry at the front of a convoy for too long, but instead in the middle where their lorry will use less fuel than their competitors,” said Jones.

Snelling highlighted the fact that platooning could be an innovative means of reducing fuel use so saving costs and reducing carbon and air quality emissions.

“Driving closely together, platoons of trucks take up less space on the road, and travelling at constant speeds can help improve traffic flows and reduce tailbacks,” he said.

“However, the system has to be shown to be safe on the roads and to deliver the promised benefits. The sooner the trial takes place, the sooner the UK logistics industry, which represents 11 per cent of the UK’s non-financial business economy, can know if this will be the right route for the future.”

The trials are being sponsored by the Department for Transport and Highways England and will be led by TRL.

Transport minister Paul Maynard said: “Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion. But first we must make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that’s why we are investing in these trials.”

TRL will lead a consortium of partners including DAF and DHL in the £8.1 million trial. Chief executive Rob Wallis said: “TRL and its consortium of leading international partners, have the practical and technical knowledge gained from previous projects to understand what is required to put a connected vehicle platoon on to UK roads safely. The team are now taking that expertise and uniquely applying it within live traffic operations.”

The plan is to run a programme of driving simulations, driver training and test track trials over the coming months. After that will come the on-road trials some time in 2018. These will be part of regular DHL logistics operations.

In April last year, six platoons of vehicles took part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge, which was sponsored by the European Union. Platoons started in a range of locations ranging from Stockholm and Munich before finishing in Rotterdam.

The trucks in a platoon use smart technology, and communicate with each other to maintain their stations in close proximity on the road reducing fuel consumption.

Connected vehicles in a platoon require a distance of only 15 metres instead of 50 metres between them producing a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag – comparable to slipstream riding in cycling competitions.

A platoon of three trucks can achieve a fuel saving of up to ten per cent, reducing CO2 emissions in the same measure. Platooning allows much more efficient use of the road space. The development of platooning could also open the way to automated driving and smart mobility.

The project partners are:

TRL: overall project lead and research partner, responsible for project and risk management.

DAF: responsible for supplying vehicles to be used in the project.

Ricardo: technology partner and global engineering, strategic and environmental consultancy.

DHL: will provide drivers and freight deliveries for the trials.

Transport Systems Catapult: will contribute to technical trial design and data analysis.

Millbrook: will provide the test track facilities for the off-road platoon testing.

TNO: currently leading the Dutch Truck Platooning Trials and will provide reciprocal representation on both the UK and Dutch Advisory Groups.

Costain: strategic partner to Highway England with in-depth knowledge of the strategic road network.

Apollo Vehicle Safety: will provide knowledge and expertise on vehicle safety.

The proposal has attracted comments from a number of organisations:

Road safety charity Brake argued that moving goods onto rail was a better strategy than platooning. Jason Wakeford, director of campaigns, said: “Rather than platooning lorries on already congested UK roads, the government should instead cut emissions and improve public safety by moving more freight from road to rail. Each freight train takes around 60 HGVs off the road network. This rigorous trial is needed to prove whether this technology really can provide the safety and environmental benefits which are claimed.”

Peter Millichap, UK director of marketing at Teletrac Navman, said: “We’re now talking about drivers potentially being in charge of a train of vehicles so from their perspective, wireless technology comes with increased responsibility and additional safety considerations. Additionally, fleet managers need to consider that they may have an increased number of assets in the hands of one individual. Should something go wrong, the cost to the business and potential harm to the public could be even greater.”

Dik Vos, chief executive of SQS, said: “Manufacturers of autonomous vehicles need to  address the concerns of the public if this technology is going to be accepted in the UK. We have spent time looking into the issue and indeed, our research shows that self-driving vehicles are seen by the public as unsafe and unreliable. Only 28 per cent of the public believe autonomous vehicles will be safer than ones driven by humans and over 65 per cent are concerned self-driving cars would crash.”

Mark Perrin, head of transport and logistics at chartered accountants Menzies, said: “The haulage industry is facing a significant driver shortage – a deficit of 1.2m by 2022 – and driverless trucks could form part of the solution. There are quite rightly concerns around the implementation and safety of driverless vehicles in general but this road test certainly represents a step in the right direction. For SMEs in the transport and logistics sector, the trial should demonstrate the benefits of investing in technology, despite the costs involved. Again, the government must play a role here in helping SMEs transition their fleets, especially when stricter guidelines relating to congestion and air quality are looming on the horizon”.

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