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Two new reports highlight growth in UK van traffic

Fri 27 April 2018 | Back to news list

Significant growth of van traffic in the UK is creating "considerable challenges" for cities and urban areas, leading to poorer air quality and congestion according to a new report from the Urban Transport Group. Meanwhile, a report by TRL evaluates the prospects for autonomous vehicle freight carriage in London.

The report entitled White van cities: Questions, challenges and options on the growth of urban van traffic, shows how 3.8 million vans (goods vehicles below 3.5 tonnes in weight including their cargo) are now registered in the UK. This figure has increased by 74% since 1996 – with vans now representing 15% of all motor vehicle traffic, compared to just 10% 20 years ago.

The reasons for this growth are not yet fully understood but some possible explanations that have been suggested include the rise of online shopping deliveries and lighter regulation for vans compared with HGVs.

While this growth presents a number of challenges for the UK’s cities and city regions, the report also highlights the vital economic contribution of the vans sector, which is a ‘significant source’ of employment (with over 250,000 people employed as van drivers) and facilitates business activities beyond the logistics sector.

The report sets out ways in which companies and authorities have approached management of van traffic to mitigate negative impacts and maximise positive contributions, but acknowledges that more research and analysis is still needed.

Key statistics highlighted in the report include:

  • Emissions: 96% of registered vans in the UK are diesel fuelled, and vans contribute 30% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from road transport, and 16% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from road transport.
  • Congestion: In 2013, congestion cost the UK economy £20.5 billion. Research reveals congestion collectively costs van fleets £915 million a year.
  • Safety: Of the 10,800 vans stopped at the roadside each year, 88.5% are overloaded; 63% have serious mechanical defects; and 50% fail their MOT. But vans have a lower rate of accidents per mile than other road vehicles.
  • Data and technology: New technology and data offer opportunities to improve the efficiency of deliveries and make more effective use of vehicles - cutting fleet mileages and associated emissions.
  • The report proposes a number of research questions which could help city region transport authorities to better understand the van sector. These include:
  • Who owns, operates and uses vans in city regions?
  • What kinds of activities are being supported by van use?
  • For vans making deliveries, to what extent are these efficiently loaded and routed?

Jonathan Bray, Director of the Urban Transport Group, commented: “White van cities are now a reality. The challenge we face is to reduce the negative impacts from the growth of vans, whilst still allowing them to play their vital role in underpinning wider city region economies.”

A second new report, ‘Impact of Autonomous Freight Vehicles in Central London’, has been produced by TRL Limited for the Cross River Partnership.

The report outlines the physical, technical and governance based interventions central London boroughs should consider in the lead up to Autonomous Vehicle (AV) freight. It says that AV freight vehicles have the capacity to perform all driving functions without the need for human supervision.

Key conclusions are:

Government investment is required in the development and testing of new technologies, specifically freight and logistics.

  •  Transport for London funding needs to support logistics operators with the uptake of AV freight
  •  AV freight trials must focus on determining what infrastructure is necessary ahead of deployment
  •  Public perceptions of AV freight should be influenced by positive media coverage
  •  Policy and regulation must be in place before AV technology is deployed


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