Going the extra mile

The Road Haulage Association guides us through the many legal restriction applying to the haulage industry

The challenges faced by us all in business are well documented and many of the key issues are equally relevant to businesses of all sizes, whilst others tend to impact more on the smaller, specialist companies. One of the areas of major concern in terms of cost, impact on the environment, impact on other road users and legislative compliance is the operation of commercial vehicles.

Even major haulage companies that are well versed in the many challenges and are well equipped to handle them fall foul of the myriad legal restrictions on the use of such vehicles. It’s a fact that the UK transport industry is one of the most heavily regulated areas of UK plc.

There are arguably three main areas of focus in this field of operation currently and they are the cost of fuel, increasingly stringent environmental expectations and new legislation, not least of all that relating to driver qualifications.

Duty & taxes
UK’s previous government’s insistence on hiking up fuel duty has led to the situation where diesel has increased in price at the pumps by 16 per cent in as many months, and with inflation currently sitting at well over two per cent it is becoming increasingly difficult for an operator to explain to the customer why his operating costs are going up in excess of published inflation figures.

The pump price of a litre of diesel currently stands at around £1.21 pence per litre, 62 per cent of which comprises fuel duty and VAT. The fuel itself costs about 41 pence. Despite these massive levels of tax, this is an industry that is expected to invest in modern, environmentally friendly commercial vehicles and wherever possible, take advantage of technology and alternative fuels to contribute to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

And, if that were not enough, the country’s heavy goods vehicle drivers are potentially going to need to undertake further training to enable them to continue in their employment.

We at the Road Haulage Association exist to look after our members, the majority of whom operate commercial goods vehicles in the hire-and-reward sector and who are well versed in tackling some of the challenges outlined above. So what steps can a smaller operator take to protect its investment and manage its costs? The list is seemingly endless but the one that is always near the top of the list is the thorny issue of fuel costs.

Despite minor fluctuations in price, the overall prediction is that the cost of fuel is likely to continue to rise in the future with little hope of it ever returning to previous cost levels. In the meantime, as we have seen, the coalition government is continuing with the fuel duty hikes set in place by the previous regime.

Reducing usage
There are a number of alternative fuels in the market place with a similar number of advantages and disadvantages to each, but it is fair to say that in the short to mid term, diesel will continue to be the fuel of choice for most commercial vehicles, even if it is mixed with another product such as bio-diesel in increasing amounts over the years. Therefore, there is only one sure fire way to reduce your spend on fuel and that is to reduce fuel usage.

Vehicle selection, intelligent route planning and vehicle loading will all make measurable contributions to fuel reduction, but the key element is the driver. A vehicle equipped with every whistle and bell imaginable rendered virtually useless if it doesn’t have an experienced and trained driver behind the wheel.

A well-trained driver can reduce fuel usage by as much as 20 per cent when compared to a less knowledgeable colleague. If a supplier offered an operator fuel at a 20 per cent discount, he would bite their hand off. The fact is that saving is there today for those who are prepared to invest training which, actually amounts to the most important element of vehicle efficiency.

Environmental issues
Impact on the environment is another key issue. Not that long ago, caring for the environment feel, was to a large extent, under the remit of the “Greens”. Today, it is up to everyone to take on a degree of environmental responsibility.

Larger companies are already required to report on their carbon emissions and it is likely that those affected by this legislation will increase as the government lowers the electricity use threshold which drives the requirement for reporting. More and more customers are now asking for environmental policies and procedures from their suppliers and these documents can be the difference between gaining and losing an order.

There is a wealth of free information on the subject from a range of sources, but one source that focuses specifically on use of goods vehicles is the web site of Freight Best Practice. This is a government-funded project that you, the taxpayer, have already financed.

The information provided is well researched, thorough, accurate and wide-ranging. See www.freightbestpractice.org.uk for some ideas of how you can reduce your environmental impact and perhaps consider joining one of their benchmarking schemes so you can judge your progress against others. Reduced environmental impact generally leads directly to reduced costs.

Driver training
As those who hold an Operators’ Licence will already be aware, the legislative burden does not reduce. The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VoSA) is investing more resources into enforcement and are, quite rightly, focusing their efforts on those with the worst record, or the most likely to fail to comply with the legislation.

The relatively recent introduction of the Operator Compliance Risk Score measurement tool in conjunction with last year’s addition of roadside fines through the Graduated Fixed Penalty scheme have raised the profile of their activities in the transport industry trade press. It has never been more important to ensure your staff training and management procedures make certain that your business complies.

The leading topic for drivers of goods vehicles over 3.5t GVW in recent months has been the introduction of the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence in September last year. This requires new licence holders to pass a more stringent testing regime consisting of four modules (as opposed to the previous two modules).

For those of us who hold a licence to drive vehicles over 3.5t we retain our acquired rights to drive these vehicles for up to five years, within which time we will need to attend 35 hours of Approved periodic training. In addition, there will then be an ongoing requirement for us to attend similar training every five years for the rest of our careers.

RHA Training is one of the leading providers of Driver CPC Periodic Training, having trained in excess of 2,000 drivers in the last six months. If you would like to find out more about Driver CPC requirements, fuel reduction opportunities or to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please do not hesitate to contact the RHA’s own training centre on 01733 261131.

We don’t have all the answers and but we can certainly help with the vast majority of questions.

For more information
Web: www.rha.uk.net

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