Time to get the freight strategy right for our cities

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The mayor of London has just published his freight strategy, but there is a strong argument that he needs a dedicated freight commissioner to make it work. Malory Davies looks at the issues.

In just a few days time – 8th April to be precise – the centre of London will become an Ultra Low Emission Zone, and lorries entering the zone will face a charge of £100 a day unless they meet Euro VI emission standards.

Vans will face a £12.50 a day charge. Only diesel vans that meet Euro 6 and petrol vans that meet Euro 4 emission standards will be exempt.

The move is part of a strategy to improve air quality in London by mayor Sadiq Khan. But it is only one part – Khan has also set out plans to cut the number of lorries and vans entering central London in the morning peak by ten per cent by 2026, according to his new “Freight and servicing action plan”.

There are already a number of other cities working on plans for clean air zones. Birmingham, for example, plans to have its own CAZ next year.

Not surprisingly, there has been concern in the logistics industry about the impact – in particular, the Freight Transport Association has joined forces with the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses to call for a freight commissioner for London.

In the introduction to his plan, Khan said: “Freight is essential for London’s economy but for our future health and prosperity we need to be smarter about how we manage the millions of van and lorry journeys each week. By creating a pan-London network of micro-distribution centres and rolling out innovative click and collect points at more Tube stations, we will enable more commuters to collect packages near their home – helping reduce congestion across our city.

“Together with the introduction of our world-leading Direct Vision Standard and supporting businesses to switch to electric vans and cargo bikes, we will make freight more efficient while also reducing road danger and cleaning up London’s toxic air.”

The plan sets out a number of key actions, including:

  1. Working with boroughs to better coordinate the control of freight movements on London’s roads, including supporting London Councils’ review of the London Lorry Control Scheme, which helps manage noise nuisance from the largest lorries during unsocial hours and allow more deliveries where appropriate to take place during off-peak hours
  2. Supporting increased use of water and rail by protecting and reactivating wharves and working with Network Rail to take advantage of opportunities to grow rail freight where possible
  3. Reducing emissions caused by lorry and van movements by launching the central London Ultra Low Emission Zone next month, which will bring in stricter exhaust emission standards for most vehicles, including vans and lorries, and supporting boroughs in introducing local zero emission zones. TfL guidance will set out a clear process to boroughs for introducing zones to tackle pollution hot spots across the capital
  4. Launching the HGV Safety Permit Scheme, incorporating the direct vision standard for HGVs. TfL will also work with regulators to bring in additional mandatory safety equipment for vehicles where appropriate, including new technology to prevent vehicles being driven under the influence of alcohol and autonomous braking systems to reduce the risk of collisions with pedestrians.

Heavy goods vehicle traffic in London, measured in vehicle kilometres, has been falling steadily over the past 20 years, and Transport for London predicts that the decline will continue, so that by 2041 HGV kilometres will be six per cent lower than in 2015.

However, van traffic has grown dramatically over the past five years and expects it to grow strongly so that by 2041 van kilometres will be 43 per cent higher than in 2015.

The action plan says there is only anecdotal evidence of growth in deliveries by motorcycle, bicycle and on foot. “We will seek to gain a better understanding of their growing contribution to deliveries and servicing in London.

TfL recently awarded six business groups a share of £230,000 funding for projects that make freight and deliveries more efficient. Schemes range from an electric freight consolidation centre at Borough Market, to underground waste storage containers in Vauxhall and the promotion of cycle freight in the London Bridge area.

TfL is currently accepting applications from BIDs and Business Partnerships for another round of funding from the scheme, with applications closing on 19 March 2019.

The mayor’s plan was launched at DPD’s new, all-electric depot in Westminster. DPD chief operating officer, Justin Pegg said: “We fully support the plans outlined by the Mayor and TfL.

“While we already have two all-electric micro depots open, there are still challenges to be overcome in terms of electrical infrastructure upgrades, site availability and the supply of electric vehicles on the scale we need for an all-electric fleet across the whole of central London. But by working in partnership with TfL, landlords and the other major stakeholders, we are well on the way to making deliveries more sustainable and safer.”

But there is strong support among business leaders for Sadiq Khan to appoint a dedicated freight commissioner to support the implementation of his transport strategy.

The Freight Transport Association, together with the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses, argue that there is an urgent need for a strong voice to champion freight transport and its particular interests and concerns across London.

The FTA has already called on Transport for London to do more to ensure the financial burden of upgrading vehicles to ensure continued working access within London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone does not debilitate small businesses.

Natalie Chapman, head of south of England and urban policy at the FTA, said: “With many new initiatives in the pipeline, including the Ultra Low Emission Zone and Vision Zero, a dedicated Freight Commissioner is necessary to ensure these schemes are designed holistically and adopted consistently across the capital’s ever-changing landscape.

“Without this, London’s 33 boroughs may end up implementing schemes in slightly different ways, which would make the regulatory environment even more complex than it currently is for the logistics industry, a sector which underpins the capital’s entire economy.”

Sue Terpilowski, London policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “With the population growth of London continuing to increase and the move towards online services and greater levels of construction, there is a clear and present need to develop a more holistic strategy for freight and deliveries for businesses taking place around the capital. We urge the Mayor to give Freight parity of esteem with other forms of transport by giving an expert in the field of freight a Commissioner status.”

The mayor’s freight policy reflects his over-riding concern to reduce environmental impact of commercial vehicles – particularly in terms of air pollution. That’s something that most people who lives in London will welcome. But there is the risk that it will hobble the logistics operations that are the lifeblood of the city. And, a more strategic approach could open up new opportunities to improve the efficiency of operations. The creation of a dedicated freight commissioner would be a first step to achieving that.


This article first appeared in Logistics Manager, April 2019.

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