Debunking freight myths

Debunking freight myths

Director - UK Policy | Freight Transport Association

As part of FTA’s political engagement we consistently face a number of commonly held views about freight that are not true. I’d like to share the five most notable with you.

 “Rail is an out-of-date method for freight and we should give its space on the railways to more passenger services.” 

 Weirdly, this notion was put forward by the former Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis. A major growth area that the UK needs to deal with is containerised traffic from our deep-sea ports and, as they are uniform in size and originate from one set point, these movements are well suited to rail. Each freight train can take 70 HGVs off our motorways and provide a carbon saving of up to 76 per cent on that one movement. Any freight train does as much for society as a passenger train can.  Even when lorries become decarbonised, rail will still remain a more energy efficient way of moving goods.

 “It’s dirty HGVs that cause our air quality problem.” 

 Unlike diesel cars, lorries have had to comply with the Euro VI emission standards since the start of 2014. These Euro VI engines have reduced emissions from the tailpipe by 80-90 per cent, according to roadside tests by Transport for London. This is further to substantial improvements from when the logistics industry started working on this problem in the early 1990s. These efforts are partly why UK air quality is improving year on year and has been for some time. 

 “There are loads of lorries running around empty or half full – if we just had consolidation we’d need far fewer trucks.” 

 Logistics is highly incentivised to load as optimally as possible. The UK already has one of the most efficient freight systems of any developed country, with lower empty-running than the EU average. Many operations could never take a return-trip load (such as tankers delivering to petrol stations), and it is the reality of our society that we import or make goods across the country that then need taking into our towns and cities to be consumed – meaning there will always be an imbalance in the movement of goods.

 “Online shopping means our towns and cities are now clogged up with vans.” 

 Only a minority of vans are actually used to carry freight. An RAC Foundation report in 2014 found the most common use for vans was for carrying equipment; only just over a quarter of van mileage was for the delivery or collection of goods. Only one in 10 vans on the road is a parcel van, and in London it is estimated that vans servicing online shopping orders account for just 1.5 per cent of traffic. This may have changed a little as online shopping has grown, but the broad picture will remain the same.

 “We could just do urban logistics by bike or e-cargo bike.”

 We move 2.5 million tonnes of goods into our towns and cities every day by HGV. Ultra-light logistics like e-cargo bikes are great and can help in places such as pedestrianised high streets and public squares serving blocks of flats, but they won’t make a dent in the tonnage we actually need to move, which means they can’t help much on congestion, emissions or safety matters. One medium-sized HGV can do the work of 10 vans, one van can do the work of 10 e-cargo bikes – we need to use the right vehicle for the right journey, or we will clog up our streets far more.

Overall, these misassumptions can lead to proposals and decisions based on inaccurate information. It is therefore important that these myths are clarified in order to move forward with making fully informed decisions. 

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