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Freight and deliveries are the ‘elephant in the room’ of sustainable transport

Freddie Talberg, chief executive officer, PIE Mapping

There is a certain inevitability for Local Sustainable Transport Funding (LSTF) schemes to focus on the obvious – reducing car travel, increasing public transport use and encouraging walking and cycling. But there’s an elephant in the room, one that tends to arrive with a diesel engine and more than six wheels. 

The elephant is, of course, freight transport. Without it, High Street shops would be bare, petrol pumps would be empty and, come Christmas, our new found love of online shopping would prove fruitless. 

While the proportion of freight vehicles on the road is much lower than cars, freight vehicles are bigger, slower, noisier and, with the need to make regular stops to make deliveries, a lot more disruptive than other road traffic.

For a local authority with a mandate to stimulate economic development and simultaneously improve road network use patterns, freight transport is both a hindrance and a help. So, how do we resolve the problem?

Restricted movements

The obvious answer would seem to be to limit freight movements to an extent deemed appropriate for an individual area. London took exactly this step some years ago by introducing the London Lorry Control Scheme. It works by excluding HGVs from the vast majority of roads in the capital during the evening and at weekends unless they have prior permission. To travel on an excluded road requires approval by London Councils. 

Ostensibly, the scheme was introduced to combat noise pollution, but during recent years the London Lorry Control Scheme has helped to facilitate freight transport being taken off roads even during ‘normal working hours’. This was particularly the case during the 2012 Olympics, which led to an increase out-of-hours deliveries in affected areas.

The London Lorry Control Scheme has had several outcomes. It has freed up network capacity and made freight journeys less likely to cause disruption which subsequently reduces emissions.

London, London, London...

The notion that individual local authorities can follow the lead of the UK’s well-funded capital to establish their own lorry control schemes is fanciful. But the principle of working with the freight industry to make restriction information easily and readily available to the benefit of both parties is surely common sense. 

To achieve this shared goal, there has to be a viable mechanism for collecting, displaying, sharing and distributing accurate data about restrictions. And such a scheme needs to function beyond and across the boundaries of specific local authority areas. After all, HGVs drive hundreds of miles per week, not all of them in one area.

To try and achieve this grand vision will require a lot of work and strong relationships to come to fruition. Despite that, or maybe because of it, the idea is already taking shape.    

The shape of things to come

PIE Mapping, an online routing and mapping specialist, is launching a National Freight Journey Planner. The planner will be the UK’s first free national routing service specifically for HGVs. It uses commercially available Navteq data. 

Besides tempting the freight sector to the table with the planning service, PIE Mapping is also engaging with local authorities to allow individual areas to host their own localised version of the routing system and most importantly, to add their own restriction information over the top of the base Navteq data. This data is then fed into the national map, meaning any routes generated by HGV drivers or operators take into account the restrictions a local area has put in place. 

A number of areas are already signed up and are now feeding their local information into the National Freight Journey Planner. These areas include Wiltshire, Hampshire and Kent, with several others in the pipeline.

Routing in Wiltshire

Kingsley Hampton, senior transport planner at Wiltshire Council, says the National Freight Journey Planner is being built into the county’s transport planning. “Efficient distribution in any area is critical in determining market diversity and consumer choice, and in doing so drives competitiveness, jobs and prosperity, but we’re particularly sensitive to the environmental and social impact that road freight transport can have,” says Hampton.

“Freight Gateway has quickly become a key component of our freight management strategy, providing industry with a valuable mapping resource while addressing crucial environmental and social issues.” 

The key element for affecting behavioural change is the accurate data that resides within local authorities. If this can be appropriately captured, then it is possible to imagine a scenario whereby the changes or restrictions a transport officer wants to put into place are sent real-time to satnavs and smart phones. 

For the first time, the ability to affect driver behaviour really will be available with the click of a mouse. And if driver behaviour means fewer emissions, quicker journeys and less disruption, should it not also be a key focus for LSTF? Here’s to the elephant in the room and telling it where you want it to go.  

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