Road transport industry 'should speed up digitalisation'

17 September 2019

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) has launched a manifesto which aims to persuade governments and other stakeholders to safeguard the role of road transport in driving economic prosperity.

The manifesto recommends how to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing road transport today through means such as improved safety for drivers and quicker adoption of new technologies. 

The IRU is an UN-affiliated organisation with members and activities in more than 100 countries.

Road transport accounts for 5.7% of employment worldwide and in Europe alone employs five million people with revenues of €500bn.

Road traffic in Great Britain increased by 29% between 1990 and 2018, according to DfT figures.

The manifesto is calling on the road transport industry to speed up digitalisation and adoption of open data to reduce costs and drive efficiencies.

Yet the IRU believes the industry is facing challenges including geopolitical unrest, climate change, a chronic shortage of drivers, issues around digitalisation and a perceived poor working environment.

“IRU is...encouraging transport companies to go paperless and urging international governments to increase the use of technology enabled freight exchanges and systems such as fully digital TIR [Transports Internationaux Routiers] at borders,” the union said.

It is also encouraging governments to revise transport policies by setting appropriate rules for professional driver requirements and defining a framework for better data access and governance.

In Europe, roughly one in five driver positions is currently unfilled and levels of both women and younger employees remain extremely low – part of the overall lack of basic infrastructure for drivers, such as safe and secure truck parking areas. 

The IRU is also calling on international governments to improve safety and security for drivers, and to create a more positive image and better working environment.

“Together with its members, IRU has developed a road map on driver shortage, calling for improved funding for safe parking areas and driver training alongside a managed transition to autonomous vehicles,” said the IRU.

While transport operators are taking significant leaps in the use of more sustainable transport alternatives, driving greener mobility and logistics, the heavy-duty commercial road transport industry is some way from adopting alternative fuels.

The IRU is calling for increased market uptake of high capacity vehicles and research into natural gas or synthetic fuels and alternative powertrain solutions – such as electric and hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Only 0.5% of all vehicles in the UK in 2018 were ultra-low emissions vehicles, according to newly-released ONS statistics.

Use of diesel for road transport overtook petrol use in 2005.

However total fuel used for road transport in the UK remained largely unchanged between 1990 and 2017 as the fuel efficiency of newer vehicles has improved.

Separately, the British International Freight Association (BIFA) fears that a new computer system to replace an existing system used for processing customs declarations may not be ready in time.

BIFA director general Robert Keen said the freight and logistics sector faced numerous challenges including the increasing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.

Keen said BIFA was worried development of the system had been marked by periods of activity and progress, and then little concrete news.

Keen said: “Our single greatest concern is that currently the development process does not involve representatives of the end-user.

“This is a dangerous oversight because it is the end-user who will determine what will actually work in practice, particularly as IT developers have been flagging up a lack of clarity regarding data elements.”

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