Road to Zero could mean a dead end for truck operators

The UK government’s long-awaited “Road to Zero” plan for moving towards deep cuts in road transport emissions was published this month, and given a mixed reception from the commercial vehicle sector.

In his foreword to the 143-page document, transport secretary Chris Grayling refers to “nearly £1.5 billion of investment and one of the most comprehensive packages of support for the transition to zero-emission vehicles.”

This is seen as a welcome, albeit long overdue recognition by the government that more resources are needed to support commercial vehicle operators keen to employ the most environmentally friendly technology available.

But Grayling’s many critics point out that he has a long track record in various government departments of failing repeatedly to deliver on promises, and even of lacking the ability to grasp much beyond simple ideas.

Electric vehicle switch still “a very long way off”

“Of course we want clean air and we welcome this boost to encourage greener motoring,” says Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett.

“But for the operators of the UK’s 493,000 HGVs the idea of switching to electric vehicles remains a very long way off. The research, development and production costs of electric trucks are still prohibitive. Until they become financially accessible, hauliers (especially those operating Euro VI diesel engines) will continue to have the cleanest trucks on UK roads.

“The haulage sector is under massive cost pressure owing to misguided government clean-air policy. It is unacceptable to ask the industry to invest in carbon-saving measures when in 18 months time over 60% of today’s lorry fleet will be subject to clean air zone (CAZ) charges.

“Government needs to wake up and understand that lorries have an average working life of twelve years and that handing responsibility over to local authorities, each with their own charging agenda, undermines the ability of the sector to invest.”

Motorway traffic near London

The industry’s own six-point plan

In a separate move, a coalition of road transport trade bodies has produced a six-point plan with recommendations for improving air quality while protecting transport operators from “punitive charges and bureaucracy.”

The coalition is made up of the Freight Transport Association (FTA), British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), the National Franchised Dealer Association (NFDA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

The plan, delivered this month to transport minister Jesse Norman and environment minister Therese Coffey, demands “consistent CAZ standards and smarter use of road space”. The coalition warns that operators simply will be put out of business if there is inadequate government support for a phased transition to cleaner vehicles.

“The fleet industry can help government to meet its air-quality ambitions but we need more support for HGV operators who face particular cost and operational challenges in upgrading their fleets,” says BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney.

“We rely on commercial vehicles accessing towns and cities for deliveries and any clean air zone policy that deters trucks is likely to increase use of vans. Around 99% of our members’ light commercial vehicle fleets are diesel, so any initiative that increases the number of vans on our roads will not tackle pollution levels.

“Commercial operators need time and incentives to upgrade their fleets.”

The Department for Transport’s “Road to zero” plan can be found at:

Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore is an award-winning automotive journalist and the former editor of our sister title, Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. He is also the UK representative on the panel of judges for the biennial, pan-European Trailer Innovation Award scheme.