SOME of the top names in the fleet industry lined up to speak at the Fleet News Industry Conference 2003, held at the Hilton London Metropole.
Fleet managers are an essential element in ensuring that pollution is cut and the UK transport network improves – and the Government is encouraging the industry to come forward and give their opinions.
Speaking to fleet decision-makers at the Fleet News Industry Conference 2003, Department for Transport Minister David Jamieson said: 'You play a significant part in helping people in this country move around. Half of all cars are bought by fleet managers – what you do is very important to the economy. The Government wants to work with you.'
With the Government having to meet strict greenhouse gas emission targets as part of the Kyoto Protocol, fleets have been targeted as a ripe area for forcing change, as seen through the emissions-based company car tax system.
However, the Department for Transport would like to see fleets go further, and be the first volume users of ultra low carbon cars which emit 100g/km of CO2. It wants one in 10 cars sold to be at this level by 2012.
Jamieson said: 'We need the fleet industry to buy 140,000 of these vehicles by 2012. We are working with industry to do this.'
Referring to the success of company car tax in pushing down the average emissions of new cars bought, he said: 'We have shown that progressive and dynamic fiscal packages can affect things in a positive way. Tax is not the only way however. The bottom line is this. If you improve fuel efficiency and lower emissions, it will almost certainly cut expenditure.'
He added that the fleet industry should look at how it can 'drive the agenda forward' on low carbon cars, and encouraged fleets to join in and give their opinions.
Jamieson also confirmed the Government was looking into road-user charging but said that there would be no likelihood of schemes being put in place before the end of the decade.
He said: 'Any car charging scheme would be 50 times more complex than a lorry-user charging scheme. We have started to look at the issues though and there will be a feasibility report, but nothing will come in before the end of the decade.'
On the extension of congestion charging to other authorities, Jamieson said that many cities had shown an interest, but warned that it was a big step, adding: 'I think there are no signs that any other cities will introduce congestion charging in the near future.'
Responding to concerns that company car tax could lead to mass opting out and more drivers buying older cars to save money as a result, the Minister reported that Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown was keeping an eye on the situation.
'We are aware there is a difficulty. The chancellor is looking closely at company car tax and we have got to tweak it so that there is a strong incentive to choose clean company cars and not opt-out.
'It's one of the concerns we have. We need careful use of fiscal measures so we do not encourage people to drive old cars,' he said.
Jamieson defended the Government's handling of the legislation banning the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving, which has still to go through Parliament, despite it coming into force on December 1. It is expected the Bill will be passed without problem and will take the form of guidance published last Thursday.
He said: 'This has been flagged up in the early part of this year and is a model of how the consultation process should work. We have considered the plan and should pass the legislation soon, but I have to say it does appear that people are already aware of it.'
Some fleets are concerned that there might be a sting in the tail and the legislation will be changed at the last moment, or that some details have yet to be resolved. But Jamieson moved to assure fleets that those with robust policies in place have nothing to fear.
He said: 'The vast majority of companies will not be affected by this because they have already done something. It's a simple piece of legislation.'
Jamieson believes most fleets have now acted to ban hand-held mobile phones, and added that firms should also look at the issue of whether drivers should should use hands-free mobiles on the move at all.