When the government launched its longer semi-trailer trial in December last year the question posed by many of the 180 hauliers involved was: 14.6m or 15.65m?

As part of its 10-year pilot scheme, the DfT has handed out 1,811 permits, approximately 900 of each size.

However, the RHA tells MT that its members – who make up two-thirds of the operators in the trial – have expressed a preference to run the longest option.

RHA policy director Jack Semple says: “It’s no surprise to us that the DfT recently confirmed that several companies have handed back their allowance of 14.6m trailers.

“Data from our members shows that there is a 2:1 bias in favour of the 15.65m trailer. From the start, people wanted the longer trailer.”

MT has spoken to several large transport companies that have verified Semple’s observations about the popularity of 15.65m. Clive Cowern, director of Shropshire-based Clive Cowern Transport Services, says: “There is extra scope for increased volumes with the 15.65m-length trailer over the smaller one.”

Piers Carroll, vice chairman at Saints Transport, in Colnbrook, Berkshire, which has been allocated five 15.65m trailers, says: “If you are going to go through the added implications of these long trailers, you may as well do so with the largest option possible.”

Richard Fry, MD at Framp-tons Transport, Somerset, says he is convinced 15.65m is going to be the most popular option for the same reason.

Permit exchange

The RHA has produced a website so members can swap, surrender or acquire rights to operate longer semi-trailers. Its longer semi-trailer permit exchange (above) is a free introduction service, non-profit making and open to the whole industry.

Under the swapping system, firms must inform the DfT of the identity of the company releasing the allocation, the name of the company acquiring it, and the number and length of the trailers involved.

Semple says: “Operators have got permits that are the wrong length for them, some can’t use them and want to pass them on to someone else.It’s essential hauliers notify the DfT once exchanges or transfers have been agreed.”

The DfT says it is happy with the exchange system as long as no business trials more than 270 longer semis.

However, with the Labour Party opposed to the pilot scheme, and a general election just two or three years away, there is the possibility that the decade-long trial could be cut short. Earlier this year, shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said extra research was needed to examine whether 15.65m trailers would lead to more cyclists’ casualties.

Semple says: “Our advice to operators is that a trial is a trial and the investment is at your own risk. However, the idea of longer semi-trailers was originally put forward by Labour and I’m sure that any future government would look at the situation realistically and take into account any investment that has been made by haulage businesses.

“If there is any evidence produced that longer trailers affect cyclists’ safety, I think the DfT will act sensibly and not rush into making any knee-jerk decisions.”

Andy Boyle, MD at ABE (Ledbury), which has been allocated two trailers at 14.6m, says there is no question that trailers at both sizes will be safe on the road. “The DfT has done its homework on this and a lot of research has been carried out to show that they will be safe,” he says.

Under the terms of the trial, operators have until next year to decide if they will run their allocations of longer semis on UK roads.

On trial

Companies already operating them include Stobart Group, which has been issued with two vehicle special orders (VSOs) for its SDC-built designs, and Wincanton, which has been granted a VSO for its Don Bur-built trailer. A 15.65m, rear-steer, tri-axle curtainsider made by SDC for Fowler Welch is also in operation.

Semple concludes: “I won’t be surprised if there is a further allocation from the DfT in about a year. I expect there to be strong demand for the 15.65m length and suspect the government will want to reflect that demand.”

■ RHA permit exchange: