Anyone looking for a way to raise their professional profile overnight might do well to follow the example of Richard Hayes, president of the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE).
He achieved instant notoriety earlier this month when he suggested the DfT considers banning LGVs from UK motorways on Sundays as part of its programme to reform the strategic road network (MT 2 July).
Calling for an investigation into a Sunday motorway ban for LGVs was bound to be controversial, Hayes admits, but his intention was “to ask the country to look at its infrastructure, recognise it is straining to cope with demand, and seek to lessen the stress on it”. The move is not an attack on the freight industry.
Hayes, who stresses that these views are his own and that the IHE has no official policy on the issue, says he wants to encourage more local resilience in the supply of goods and services and the ability to respond to severe weather and other disruptions. Just-in-time delivery patterns leave little slack in supply chains to cope with unexpected pressures, he says. “It’s about reviewing how you do things and reducing the pressure.”
The DfT’s programme for reforming the road network aims to increase the quality and efficiency of the network, offering a better service to motorists and businesses. “What better framework is there in which to investigate lessening the strain on our network for one day a week?” asks Hayes. “Is it too much to ask that we take some of the tension out of the system for one day a week?”
One of Hayes’s justifications for proposing a Sunday ban is that several European countries impose restrictions on the times and days when LGVs are permitted on roads. France, Spain and Italy ban LGV movements on Sundays and public holidays. There is, however, variation in when such restrictions apply and for how long. “Perhaps part of the debate should look at harmonisation across Europe,” he suggests.
Needless to say, while the move may have raised Hayes’s profile, it has done little for his popularity among operators. While there are some to whom a Sunday ban would make little difference, the majority of operators MT spoke to say it would be counter-productive.
“Our operation would not be significantly affected in terms of numbers of vehicles, as most of our movements take place Monday to Friday,” says Zac Brown, operations director at Norbert Dentressangle Transport Services. But, he adds: “For customers we serve on a Sunday, it would have a significant effect on service and costs, particularly for time-sensitive deliveries.
“If the proposal was to come into effect, it would transfer more vehicle movements to weekdays, adding to congestion at peak times,” he adds.
Other operators are more blunt. Arran Osman, MD of Somerset-based controlled temperature specialist Langdons, says: “The recommendation is one of the most ridiculous and unnecessary suggestions I’ve heard from a senior professional for some time.”
Industry associations have been forthright in their views. “Banning truck movements on Sundays would damage the economy and consumers,” says James Hookham, MD of policy and communications at the FTA. And RHA policy director Jack Semple says the proposal is out of touch with the needs of the UK economy.
One issue many operators are concerned about is that a ban that applied only to motorways would force some operators to put trucks on smaller roads, causing more congestion there. Those that could avoid operating on Sundays might have to deploy more vehicles during the rest of the week, raising operating costs and congestion and emissions across the network on the busiest days of the week.
There would also be implications for consumers requiring the freshest possible goods if deliveries could not take place on a Sunday.
Hayes accepts some of these criticisms but remains unrepentant. “The issue of Sunday use of the road network by LGVs should be investigated,” he says. He plans to write to roads minister Mike Penning to ask the DfT to look at the feasibility and implications of such a ban.
The DfT, however, is firmly opposed to the idea. “We are not contemplating any ban on Sunday travel for LGVs,” Penning says in a statement to MT. “The cost to the economy through delayed delivery times and increased congestion at other peak periods means it would not be an effective option for the UK.”
However, while the understandable reaction for operators will be to breathe a sigh of relief, the reality is that an overworked, congested road network means workable alternatives to the situation need to be found if road transport is to remain viable. Hayes may have won few friends with his comments, but that doesn’t mean it is not a conversation the industry needs to have, and have soon.