Commercial Vehicle Forum 2013: What happened on the day?

This year’s CV Forum, the second ever to take place, promised to be a good one, with top people from the industry, sector analysts, commentators and consultants – and a word from the new Under Secretary for Transport. The setting for this year’s event was the BP Lecture Theatre in the British Museum, opened by Nelson Mandela thirteen years ago at the turn of the millennium.

The View from The Cabinet

The talks started with Robert Goodwill MP, who earlier this month became Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport in a Cabinet reshuffle. Expressing strong support for the sector and its needs, Goodwill declared that he sees freight transport as essential to every part of the UK economy, from delivering hospital supplies to supporting the growth of the UK export market. In terms of concrete policies, he explained that some of his priorities in office are: investing in road infrastructure, supporting semi-trailers, overseeing the introduction of the levy on LGVs to level the playing field between UK and EU drivers (UK drivers to be compensated by a reducing in excise duty), maintaining the longest fuel duty freeze in 20 years, and working with VOSA to reduce inspection times and improve facilities.

The First Debate: Thinking About Efficiency

While Goodwill’s focus on the challenges to the sector set the tone for the day, the format very much changed after his talk and swift departure. The basis for the day was two panel debates, with industry experts and commentators addressing two topics which are key to the future direction of the industry. “Exploring world-class business efficiency in the road transport industry” was the first subject for discussion – and audience and panel members alike quickly weighed in with their opinions, experiences and relevant statistics.

The panel for the first half was made up of Giles Margerison, Sales Director for Webfleet UK and Ireland; Henry Foy, Motor Industry Correspondent for the Financial Times; David Weller, former Head of UK Logistics for Mothercare; and Sarwant Singh, a Partner in Frost & Sullivan. Justin Webb, former BBC North America correspondent and a member of Radio 4’s Today team, chaired the debate.

The first audience question cut right to heart of one of the big challenges in the industry. Jay Parmar, of the BVRLA, asked the panel, “Do you think the spending cuts have adversely impacted UK road transport firms?” Here’s a quick summary of some of the responses:

Giles: Although investment has been hindered by the need to make cuts, this also means that companies have been forced to come up with creative solutions to improving efficiency – the old attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ does not cut it in the current environment.

Sarwant: Efficiency is damaged in the long term, as companies are spending less on both R&D and capital, including new trucks.

Henry: Companies need to be investing in what’s coming next – as for truck sales, there is some indication that they will start to recover over the next year or so.

Can We Use Roads More Efficiently?

Next, audience member Laura Hailstone, Group Content Editor for Road Transport Media, quizzed the experts on another hot topic, “Does the panel think that out-of-hours deliveries need to become more prevalent in the road transport industry?”

David: The Olympics gave businesses the chance to test out-of-hours deliveries in urban areas. There will be increasing pressure to provide this type of delivery and people will find ways to make them work, in reaction to very specific local conditions that currently make them tricky.

Beverley Bell, Traffic Commissioner for the North West of England, chimed in from the audience to add that she would welcome more pilot schemes for out-of-hours deliveries, which would also benefit bus services due to lower road congestion in the day.

Richard Fry (audience), of Framptons Transport Services, also added that out-of-hours deliveries are not the only way to use roads more efficiently – opening up bus lanes for freight traffic, as Exeter has done, would help the industry too.

Where Next?

Technology was the theme of the next debate. Simon Mall (audience), Head of Commercial Vehicles at Ricardo asked, “Which future technologies do the panel see as most important in the industry and what effect will these innovations have on the UK road transport sector?”

Giles: The next big challenge to gain more efficiency is getting the many different systems within an organization talking to each other.  Advanced systems will actually learn about drivers’ profiles and company workflow and then proactively deliver relevant information when and where it is needed, as opposed to having to request it meaning less human intervention. This could be connecting systems such as work flow internally with information from devices around the vehicle such as tyre sensors, RFID scans, to name a few, which report back through a telematics systems.

In the area of driver behaviour in particular, which accounts for 30% of the total cost of ownership of a vehicle, driver engagement is key. It allows driver to  receive more personalised training, improve engagement and meet organizational benchmarks for cost and CO2 reduction as well as safety.

David: The industry needs to learn how to make better use of data – it does not need more data, necessarily. This can help fleet perform better and provide better information for the consumer, such as more precise delivery slots.

Sarwant: Autonomous vehicles will be a game changer too – not removing the driver, but allowing a single driver to drive multiple trucks joined together in convoy. That would mean the skills of a high performance driver are multiplied across several trucks.

The discussion went on to explore the potential of future fuel technologies too. The increasing use of shale gas in fleets was seen as one solution, provided the right technologies are used to prevent methane leaks. Electric vehicle were also suggested, although it was generally agreed that these are currently too expensive, as well as lacking enough supporting infrastructure in terms of charge points and the capacity of the electricity grid. But they may play a bigger part in the sector in the future.

The Second Debate: Influencing Europe

After a quick break for coffee and biscuits, the panel reconvened to look at the second topic of the day, “How can UK operators set the benchmark for the European road transport sector?” The members of the panel changed slightly for this debate, with Beverley Bell and Laura Moran, Commercial Vehicle Director for Hertz UK, joining Henry Foy and Sarwant Singh.

To start things off, Laura Hailstone (audience) asked what the panel though to the claims of Labour’s Shadow Transport Minister, Richard Burden, that semi-trailer trials should be scrapped as they are “too big for local streets and threaten the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other road users”, adding that ministers should focus on “shifting freight onto our railways”?

Sarwant: This view is oversimplified. It may be true of urban areas like central London, but it does not apply to major motorways.

Henry: Why abandon trials? There’s no point judging until the tests have happened. Then everyone can see the results and make an informed decision.

Beverley pointed out that development of railway infrastructure is currently not good enough to make it a viable option for freight, although Sarwant believed the situation may improve in the future.

Making Vans Better

Consultant Robin Dickeson (audience) was the next to ask a question: “What practical action can the panel recommend to improve the UK van fleet’s dreadful maintenance record?”

Beverley: The issue is not so much enforcement as it is education. It is an entire culture that needs to change and many van operators, especially one-man self-employed drivers, are not aware of the problem or its scale.

Laura: Provide incentives. Educate small operations about the efficiency and cost reduction benefits of driving safely, in terms of better fuel use.

Beverley also pointed out that while some regulation should come from Europe, this will take a while, so culture change should definitely be the focus for now.

Safer Parking

Parking is a thorny issue for drivers and fleet managers alike. Joni Cunningham (audience), from Advertising PJM Group, asked, “What plans does the government have to encourage haulage companies to park safely which is cost effective to both drivers and truck stops?”

Sarwant: We need high-level legislative change to improve this situation. Technological innovations will help too, such as sensor networks which tell people where they can find available parking spaces in real-time.

The audience suggested that councils should be doing more to support people who operate specialist truck stops, in particular helping with costs associated with provide a secure space. The idea was also brought forward that park and ride facilities could be used as truck stops after-hours, to make better use of these existing spaces. In particular, this could help with the problem of stopping in built-up urban areas like central London, which is currently a big issue.

Telematics in the UK

Towards the end, the discussion moved on to taxation, insurance and the role of telematics. Sarwant pointed out that a number of countries are moving away from taxation emissions to taxation based on the number of miles driven. The audience discussed the fact that, to make this feasible, telematics should be compulsory in all vehicles in the UK. While Beverley claimed that this may be a big burden on business, Sharon Clancy (audience), Editor at m.logistics, pointed out that things are going that way anyway; some insurers are starting to cherry pick customers with telematics data and are beginning to offer mileage-based premiums.

Beverley also raised the point that telematics systems had other benefits to businesses. It allows them to get a realistic view of costs, which would allow more realistic pricing and cost management, and act as a barrier against dangerous undercutting – currently, data is not being used properly to get this information. Members of the audience also pointed out that telematics systems have been shown consistently to more than pay for themselves in this regard. Sharon (audience) went on to explain that telematics take up in the UK is high compared to many other countries in Europe, as congestion charges and high fuel prices have forced businesses to find other ways of keeping costs down. But this may also have a knock on effect, she claimed, of attracting more talented young people into the sector, as the industry features more technological solutions and data analytics.

Giles (audience) told the room that vendors were moving to address the problem of dealing with large amounts of unorganised data, by providing data in a pre-analysed form. This means businesses can spend more time acting on insights and less time on interpretation and analysis, although culture change is still needed in many organisations to make this a part of business-as-usual. He also pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, TomTom’s data shows that the SME market has a higher adoption rate than larger operators.

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