Van fleet operators could be hit with more regulations after the European Commission (EC) revealed plans to bring them into line with rules which govern HGVs.
The proposals, which were contained within the EC’s ‘Mobility Package’ announced last month, could have potentially huge implications for the commercial fleet industry.
The package comprises of eight legislative files and various accompanying documents, including plans which would change drivers’ hours rules, tachographs and minimum wage rules for visiting drivers.
However, it is the proposed rule changes for fleets operating light commercial vehicles (LCVs) which are causing most concern.
The EC wants to extend the rules for financial standing, good repute, cabotage (the right to operate transport services within a particular territory) and professional competence to include commercial vehicles weighing less than 3.5 tonnes.
The move would bring operators within the scope of EU regulations 1071/2009 and 1072/2009, which set the rules for carrying out domestic and international work in the EU.
Under the controversial plans, van fleet operators would have to comply with some of the O-licence rules.
European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, said: “Our reforms will set the foundation for standardised, digital road solutions, fairer social conditions and enforceable market rules.
“They will help decrease the socio-economic costs of transport, like time lost in traffic, road fatalities and serious injuries, health risks from pollution and noise, while serving the needs of citizens, businesses and nature.”
However, the proposals have been criticised by the UK-based Freight Transport Association (FTA). It is particularly concerned that implementing these new controls will divert the attention of the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) away from the vital task of policing dangerous badly maintained or overloaded vehicles.
More than four million vans are used on the UK’s roads every day, with operators using their vehicles to travel a record 48.5 billion miles across the country in 2017.
James Firth, head of FTA licensing policy, said: “We recognise the political pressure the European Commission was facing from some member states to amend regulations covering freight vehicles. But the addition of new restrictions on van operators is an unnecessary imposition, the implementation of which will hinder business growth and bring no meaningful benefit to road safety.
“In turn, this will take the focus of the DVSA away from enforcing existing road safety laws against operators with dangerous, badly maintained and overloaded vans.
“Instead, the DVSA and Government should be concentrating on encouraging increased professionalism in this fast-growing sector by cracking down on unroadworthy competitors, without creating unnecessary burden for those operating within the law.”
Financial standing rates for vans are proposed to be €1,800 for the first vehicle and €900 for each subsequent one.
At current exchange rates that would mean around £1,600 and £800 respectively. There is not a requirement for these sums to be paid, rather the ability for an operator to be able to demonstrate that they have such funds available to prove that the business is solvent and will not be likely to cut corners on maintenance obligations due to lack of available funds.
Member states will also be required to report annually to the commission on van activity in scope of the regulation.
The FTA has continuously objected to proposals to increase regulation of the van sector. Its members are clear that there is currently a lack of enforcement of existing rules regarding roadworthiness and overloading.
However, it claims that the new regulation in the absence of effective enforcement will divide the van industry into those who operate according to the law and those who operate according to what they feel they can get away with.
Furthermore, increased enforcement of the proposals will divert existing enforcement resource away from dangerous and overloaded vehicles to a ‘paper chase’ to ensure operators comply with an administrative procedure.
The basic requirements of the rules are probably not a significant issue for many of its members, the FTA says, but the administrative processes required to prove compliance could be. It will also impose a greater burden on the traffic commissioners, and an increased cost to industry.
The commission acknowledges the changes will trigger increased implementation and enforcement costs by member states, considered to be up to €166 million (£145m) for the 28 member states from 2020-2035.
It also says businesses will face an increase of up to 10% in operating costs in order to comply with the new rules.
However, it argues that the changes will deliver savings of up to €5.2 billion (£4.5bn). It is also expected to reduce infringements of cabotage rules by up to 62% and reduce the risk of so-called letterbox companies, whereby hauliers without an established presence can visit from other member states and compete unfairly with a reduced cost base, by around 10%.
The new legislative package also includes plans to promote “seamless mobility solutions” so vehicles can travel easily across Europe. For instance, interoperability between tolling systems will enable road users to drive throughout the EU without having to be concerned by different administrative formalities, says the EC.
Common specifications for public transport data will also allow drivers to better plan their journey and follow the best route even if it crosses a border.
There will be further announcements over the next 12 months, including on post-2020 emissions standards for cars and vans as well as the first-ever emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles.
The FTA admits the package does include a number of measures which UK logistics operators have been lobbying on for some time. Pauline Bastidon, head of European policy at FTA, said: “We welcome proposals to reduce the ever-increasing administrative burden that our international members have been facing when operating abroad, as a result of the so-called ‘minimum wage rules’ that have multiplied across Europe in the past months.”
Bastidon believes the emergence of these national requirements has jeopardised the integrity of the single market and created unnecessary costs and red tape for operators.
She also welcomes the Commission’s efforts to bring greater inter-operability to road charging tools, which should remove the need for multiple boxes in the cab and cut costs for international operators, as well as the proposal to introduce incentives for users of cleaner vehicles.
However, she said: “We also have serious concerns with crucial aspects of the package, such as the unnecessary imposition of bureaucratic rules for vans, or the move to ban drivers from taking their weekly rest in the cab. We will continue to work with all European institutions involved to ensure our concerns are addressed as a matter of urgency.”
While the proposed legislation would be unlikely to come into force before Brexit, many of the new rules contained in the EU’s proposals will affect the practicalities of how goods will move into and out of Europe from the UK.
It may be that, in the process of negotiating a trade deal, the UK Government agrees to implement some or all of the proposals to maintain parity with EU standards.
Firth concluded: “FTA is advising its members to plan ahead, as the package – once agreed – could well be implemented in full in domestic legislation.”