21 October 2004 | Cara Whitehouse
Haulage customers are prepared to pay towards new road charges facing suppliers to receive more predictable delivery times, according to the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.
But logistics firms fear the charges proposed by the government will slash their margins.
Jonathan Bullock, the institute's director of policy, told delegates to this year's Logistics and Supply Chain Forum on board the Oriana cruise ship that the road charges would have benefits.
The UK Department for Transport published a white paper that looked at road charging, The Future of Transport, in July.
It suggested distance-based charges that would be calculated according to vehicle category, the type of road used and time of day.
Toll roads are less congested because they cost money to use, but with less traffic hauliers can predict delivery times better.
Bullock told SM: "These should improve reliability and predictability for haulage, resulting in improved service levels and greater client satisfaction."
But in a heated debate on toll roads, the 27-mile M6 toll-road, which opened in December, was described as "a national infrastructure given to a private company" with no limits on pricing.
It was built to bypass the most congested sections of the M6 and can reduce journey times by up to 45 minutes.
The Confederation of British Industry estimated it could save UK firms billions of pounds a year by more accurate delivery times, increased fuel efficiency and fewer wasted staff hours.
Members of the Freight Transport Association are split on charging, said John Samson-Snell, Shell's order fulfilment manager in Europe and a director of the FTA .
He also questioned government promises that tax cuts on fuel duty for hauliers would off-set the proposed road user charge.
"It will cost the government £500 million a year to collect," he said. "These increased costs must eventually be passed to the consumer."
A similar scheme in Germany will cost Shell an extra $6 million a year, Samson-Snell said.