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'30% of UK commercial vehicles travel empty'

23 June 2016

The UK urgently needs to develop an integrated freight strategy to ease unnecessary traffic congestion, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has said in a controversial report.

According to IMechE’s report UK Freight: in for the Long Haul, up to 30% of all commercial vehicles on UK roads travel empty and about 150m miles are driven unnecessarily.

The organisation is calling for a national “multi-modal freight strategy” – one in which road, rail and sea transport is integrated – to ease traffic congestion, improve air quality and boost the economy.

IMechE believes joint local deliveries can be better organised through proposed “urban consolidation centres”.

The institution also points out the need to improve co-ordination of air cargo, as up to 400 tonnes of perishable goods arrive at Heathrow every morning, with many needing to be sent to Cambridge for quality testing before being returned to pass customs. 

This process causes a 24-hour delay that could be sidestepped by following the practice of Frankfurt Airport, which has built laboratories closer to the airport.

Currently, while 65% of the UK population lives within a 150-mile radius of Liverpool Port, 91% of deep-sea goods enter or leave via Southampton or Felixstowe. 

IMechE says this leads to around 150m wasted road miles, 200,000 additional truck journeys, increased road congestion and about 200,000 tonnes of unnecessary CO2 emissions.

However, the report has caused some controversy in the freight transport industry. 

For example, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) disputed the assertion that 30% of commercial vehicles run empty.

Christopher Snelling, FTA head of national and regional policy, said: “IMechE itself notes in the report that the 30% figure is not representative of the situation, as it includes such things as petrol and milk tankers returning to base, where there is literally nothing you could put in them.”

Snelling also questioned whether it would be feasible to have cargo delivered to Liverpool instead of Southampton or Felixstowe.

“These deep-sea ships will call at southeast UK ports as one call out of six or seven in the northern European sea corridor – that is northern France through to the Baltic. There is no prospect of them diverting en masse to northwest England,” he said.

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