Column - January 2013
Foreign lorry road user charging a missed opportunity
Freight on Rail believes that the HGV road user levy bill currently going through Parliament is a missed opportunity to create a more comprehensive system which could reduce freight's environmental footprint, improve working standards, road safety and helps support modal shift, where appropriate.
Most European countries introduced a similar system about ten years ago and now operate more integrated and sophisticated systems. Evidence from the schemes operated in Germany and Switzerland demonstrates that the efficiency of the HGV sector has improved with less empty running which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of freight carried; freight has also transferred to rail and water and funding has been provided to support improvements in working conditions. In Germany, between 2005 and 2010, the Maut System led to a 7% increase in rail volumes, 21% improvement in lorry load efficiency and 11% reduction in empty running to below 20%; the UK figure for empty running has hovered around 27% for some years. The benefits of a more sophisticated system, such as distance based models, is that operators would have financial incentives to get better efficiency out of fleets which would minimise external costs such as local air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, noise and congestion. Consideration of road and rail access charges in parallel would allow Government to take into account external factors. Rail freight, charged on a distance basis, is currently facing considerable increases in charges which will not help promote long distance modal shift as part of an integrated intermodal solution to reduce road congestion and improve overall freight reliability.
So whilst we support the principal of introducing a lorry road user charging system to charge foreign lorries for using UK roads to ensure fairer arrangements for the UK haulage industry, the current charge of up to £1000 a year for foreign hauliers is not high enough to improve competition for UK road haulage, a point made by many in the road haulage industry. The proposed system will also be expensive for the Government to administer and could end up generating tiny amounts of revenue while placing extra administrative burdens on UK hauliers. Any extra revenue generated should go back into UK transport infrastructure and the industry.
Foreign registered vehicles only make up around 6% of HGV vehicles miles in the UK so one does have to question the merits of this particular system which are so focused on this one issue.
Enforcement of the charges for foreign registered hauliers remains problematic. A time based system could encourage unscrupulous foreigh hauliers to break driving time limitations. VOSA is under resourced and not enforcing driver hours currently, so any additional responsibility on VOSA needs to be financed. We believe that the DfT estimates of the administration and enforcement charges for foreign hauliers will be found to be unrealistically low. On the spot charges for non compliance by foreign hauliers should be high to act as a strong deterrent to those who seek to avoid payment of the charges.
Additionally, any lorry road user charging system should improve standards and enforcement in road haulage, improve conditions and facilities for drivers and provide support for operators and drivers training schemes.
A variation of the charges according to the environmental impact of the vehicles in terms of emissions could also have helped the Coalition Government achieve its aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The European Commission has stated that it wants comprehensive lorry road user charging to be mandatory across member states by 2014 so this system may have to be revisited shortly.