Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Road Haulage Lobby Informs Government and Welcomes Infrastructure Changes Affecting Freight Vehicles

RHA Calls for Driver Training Impetus While FTA Praises Latest Thames Crossing Enquiry
Shipping News Feature

UK – The Road Haulage Association (RHA), which represents a large proportion of the country’s truck operators, has been on the campaign trail this week with a stand at the Conservative Party conference ensuring that those in power become aware of the state of Britain’s freight industry, with particular emphasis on just how hard a lorry driver’s job actually is, and how the chronic shortage of staff entering the HGV industry is a matter of extreme concern.

Conference visitors were invited to the RHA stand to take part in a ‘Top Gear’ style challenge on a truck simulator. A lot of MPs took the challenge including secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin, logistics minister Andrew Jones and ports minister Robert Goodwill whilst former RHA chief executive and transport minister Steve Norris also visited the stand. The RHA says it made the most of a unique opportunity to press for the business department to accept the case for the funding of HGV driver apprenticeships, with RHA chief executive Richard Burnett commenting:

“The RHA’s attendance at the Conservative conference is just part of our campaign to raise awareness of National Lorry Week - 26-31 October. This is aimed at boosting the profile of the industry with the general public, schoolchildren and college leavers, as well as those looking for a change of career. And, at a time when we are facing such a massive driver shortage, we need to do all we can to encourage new entrants in to the industry. Drivers, technicians, warehouse operatives: the jobs are there just waiting for the right people.”

The truck simulation strategy, almost certainly a sure fire lure for any middle aged desk jockey in a suit, politician or otherwise, was also part of the armoury in the HGV Heroes campaign announced by Dunlop and the RHA to highlight the impact of HGV driver shortages on the UK economy and launched at Silverstone with the support of British Touring Car Championship driver Tom Ingram.

Tom is sponsored by the RHA and currently taking on the challenge of acquiring an HGV licence, his views on the comparison between truck driving and ‘the day job’ can be heard and seen here. The campaign seeks to recruit new blood into the world of haulage in several ways, namely:

• presenting a more positive image of professional truck drivers

• addressing concerns about the potential earnings of drivers

• developing channels of funding for driver training

• working to reduce insurance premiums for young truck drivers

• pressing for improved roadside facilities for truck drivers

• seeking to simplifying the qualification process

Meanwhile the other main representative for the UK’s road industry, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has also been appreciative of government action proposed for the near future. The Department for Transport (DfT) intends to introduce a bridge marking system that will show both imperial and metric height, width and length limits. Despite metrication some fifty years ago various weights and measures remain stubbornly imperial and this would seem a common sense policy.

The DfT has carried out its most comprehensive review of traffic signs since they were introduced in 1964 and is consulting on planned changes. It says a lack of understanding of imperial measurements has been implicated in incidents of bridges struck by over height vehicles and the FTA has made a submission in support of the change. With more than 1600 bridge strikes in 2014/15 throughout the UK, the organisation believes it is vital that signage can be easily understood by drivers who have to negotiate low bridges and narrow spaces.

Whilst highways and bridge authorities have had the opportunity to mark bridges with imperial and metric measurements in the past, this has been done by the installation of a separate sign. The proposed change gives the power to mark both measurements on one sign. Younger and foreign drivers in particular are presented with a challenge when they are more accustomed to metric measurements rather than imperial as they have to make the conversion, often with little time. Vehicles with an overall travelling height over three metres must have a notice in the cab which indicates the height in feet and inches or in imperial and metric. Malcolm Bingham, the FTA’s Head of Road Network Policy, said:

“While the new rules have still to be finalised, it is proposed that highway authorities will be allowed to replace the current signs as they become life expired. FTA has urged the DfT to encourage early take-up of the new option.”

Another bright spot for UK drivers picked up by the FTA is the news of a public consultation for East London’s proposed Silvertown Tunnel. The Silvertown Tunnel will link the Greenwich Peninsula with the Royal Docks and would provide a welcome relief to congestion and delays for drivers in East London who currently are limited to crossings weighed down with traffic at certain times. Now Transport for London (TfL) is to launch a consultation into a series of crossings planned in and around the capital.

At present the alternative crossing in the area is the Blackwall Tunnel, which has a 4.0 metre (13.1ft) height limit restricting access for taller lorries, forcing them to take lengthy detours out to the M25 in order to cross the Thames, adding to journey and delivery times. Drivers approaching the tunnel currently face on average a two-mile tailback during peak periods, wasting an estimated one million hours each year by people queuing to use it and costing millions of pounds in lost time. Natalie Chapman, FTA Head of Policy for London, said:

“After decades of underinvestment in the road network, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for Silvertown. A lack of cross-river connectivity in East London is stifling growth, causing gridlock and adding to the cost of doing business in East London. FTA welcomes the planned Silvertown Tunnel along with a network of other promised river crossings in this part of the capital which will deliver huge benefits not only for the freight industry, but for the businesses and communities we serve.”

Photo: A unit used in Tom Ingram's HGV training.