2. Air quality
While fleets’ focus is on CO2, driven by the Government’s taxation policy, the clock is ticking towards the 2014 deadline on air quality – NOx emissions, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.
DEFRA is responsible for ensuring the UK hits its targets; the FTA expects those will be missed.
Transport is a significant source of NOx and it’s the easy target. London’s Low Emission zone, introduced to tackle air quality, is likely to be replicated in other urban areas.
Reading and Bath have both issued proposals, but other cities are thought to be looking at low emission zones which would limit road use to Euro5 and Euro6 diesel vehicles.
The London zone currently affects HGVs only; London Major Boris Johnson postponed the move to add LCVs when he took office.
“But it’s a numbers game so we expect emissions zones will affect HGVs and LCVs,” says Hookham.
“This will have an impact on greening the fleet as it will speed up the move to buy newer vehicles.”
The FTA is hopeful that the duty rise planned for April, which would result in a 3p per litre rise in fuel prices, will be postponed.
It certainly looks more likely following the release of the fourth quarter GDP figures showing negative growth of 0.5%.
“If we all stay together, business and consumer groups, we have a good chance of success,” says Hookham.
“Another rise will hit cashflow and cost companies thousands of pounds – it’s a hit that they aren’t able to provide for.”
Long term, Hookham believes the Government should introduce a different rate of tax for HGV and van drivers.
He also doesn’t rule out road pricing, as long as it replaces other forms of taxation.
“There is an issue over trusting the Government not to abuse it as a tax,” he says.
“We could envisage a different conversation if road user pricing was a means by which a private operator of a road network recovered their investment – in other words privatisation like the rail network or the M6 toll road.
“The money could be used to maintain the network with any extra ring-fenced for improvements.
"If the business community could be assured that the result is an improved road network and reliability times, my membership would be up for the conversation.”
'Self-regulation is promised land'
Talk was rife at the Fleet Van conference about the possibility of introducing tachographs to light commercials up to 3.5 tonnes.
The issue isn’t so much the tacho itself – they are cheap to buy and install – it’s the potential to limit drivers’ hours that could cause issues.
The UK won’t take unilateral action – the domestic driver hour rules were only amended at the end of 2010 after a two-year review – but the European Commission might decide to look at it. The EC releases the update of its 10-year plan in spring and the FTA will be scouring the pages looking for any hints.
“If they look to take action, we hope that Van Excellence would allow us to say, this scheme is sufficient,” says Hookham
“The promised land has to be self-regulation – we have to get on the front foot and make it happen.”
New standards for load security
A number of initiatives have been introduced as a result of discussions by the FTA’s working groups.
Load security was raised as a topic at the utility group last year and has led to a change in standards.
It followed a court ruling that held a company liable for an unsafe vehicle in a fatal collision because its load had shifted.
The load movement was not the cause of the fatality, but the fact it had moved meant there was a case.
At the Fleet Van conference last year, just 20% of van operators said they could guarantee that their vans were loaded in a safe manner while on roads.
The FTA worked with manufacturers and the suppliers of rackings and fixings to look at anchor points and equipment.
Meanwhile, the Transport Research Laboratory set the standards based on the most frequently encountered collision scenarios – typically around 30mph.
The recommendations were published last autumn in an operator’s guidance note.
“This type of work is relevant to all vehicle operators and it is attracting more members from the van and car operator side,” said James Hookham.