You are lying in bed on New Year's day nursing a monumental hangover and wondering when the room is going to stop spinning round and round. Suddenly a young lady clad in a floaty white dress and carrying a small wand appears by your bed and offers 10 wishes. Just as you are about to ask for a clear head, she adds the proviso that your wishes must relate to the world of van fleet operations!
In the unlikely event that such a scenario would actually happen – and that you are left lost for words – let me put forward my own new year wish list for the industry.
1. Road charging
Number one wish must be for an end to the spectre of road charging and tolls, a matter which threatens the very existence of some van fleets. At present, the Government only re-invests a fraction of the money it takes from the taxation of vehicles in the roads infrastructure. So instead of putting the squeeze on hard-pressed transport firms, why not use this cash to build the road system that this country deserves?
Or how about this for a suggestion ... if tolls have to come, then why not restrict them to pleasure motorists who clog up the roads taking their kids to Alton Towers and the like, leaving van and lorry fleets to get on with the serious business of keeping Britain's consumers supplied with goods toll-free.
At present – amazingly enough in these times of increased awareness of health and safety at work – some manufacturers still charge extra for a driver's airbag. Every new car sold has one, right down to the Perodua Kelisa at £4,995 on the road. But van drivers, who spend all their working lives behind the wheel, apparently don't deserve such a 'luxury'. I won't name and shame these manufacturers, despite the fact that some of them should know better. All I say is this: 'You know who you are – do the decent thing and include this basic safety items as a standard fitting.'
3. Euro red tape
Who are these people? Where do they live? Did we vote for them? Yes, I'm talking about the Eurocrats who sit in their ivory towers making the most of the EU gravy train with their expense account dinners and fancy hotels, scattering edicts around willy nilly, with never a thought of the effect they may have on the man (or woman) in the street. The latest suggestion from Brussels is that panel vans down to a gross vehicle weight of 2.8 tonnes should be fitted with tachographs. And guess who's going to pay for them? Yep, the poor old fleet operator. Most of the experts in the industry have dismissed the idea as unworkable and indeed unnecessary, but as we go to press, the idea is still steaming ahead. So wish number three is for an end to this idea and all the other loony laws that are forced upon us by foreigners who know nothing about our country or our industry.
4. White van man
Hands up all those van fleet operators who are sick and tired of reading stories about the 'scourge' of white van man, that heinous villain who plies the roads causing death and mayhem and frightening old ladies.
We all know that the vast majority of drivers are professional people who carry out a difficult task to the best of their abilities and that it is the few rogues on the road who spoil it for the rest of us. The last thing drivers need when they pick up their copy of The Sun or the The Daily Mirror is to see themselves lampooned week after week and dismissed as crazed monsters. Fleet Street take note – we have had enough!
5. Speed bumps
Talking of health and safety, local councils could do worse than remove all those annoying speed bumps in towns that combine to make mincement of our loads and trash our suspension systems. The writing is already on the wall as 999 services complain that they are being hampered by these lumps, so let's remove them all and get back to the drawing board and think of something better.
Manufacturers claim they are making great strides in the field of van security but I am constantly inundated with calls from hapless van operators who have been the victims of theft – both of and from vehicles. I can't believe that in this day and age, makers cannot produce a vehicle which will defy the thieves who, for the most part, are not the greatest brains in the world. Better locks all round please.
Many insurance company executives obviously read The Sun and The Daily Mirror (see item 4) because a trend is emerging whereby insurance firms are loading up premiums for van fleets on the assumption that the vans are being driven by people like Attila the Hun and Mad Max. One wish must be for recognition from the insurance industry that most British van drivers are respectable and conscientious human beings.
8. Power crazy
Most van fleet operators (unlike van drivers) would welcome an end to the race by some manufacturers to produce ever more powerful vehicles. Most fleets don't buy these models, but the small number of drivers who abuse them give the whole industry a bad name. One way of knocking speed on the head would be to introduce a law requiring each van to be fitted with a speed limiter.
9. Rear bumpers And while we're criticising the van manufacturers, let's have better rear bumpers on vehicles. Some 90% of damage to vans is caused here and some bumpers are laughably inadequate to protect the vehicle.
10. CD players
When are van manufacturers going to learn that no-one (not even me!) plays cassette tapes any more. Tapes were one of the most abominable pieces of technology ever invented. Their reproduction is awful, they get stuck in your tape player and if you don't put them back in the box immediately after playing them they get full of grit and won't work. Surely it must be as cheap to fit a CD player as one of these remnants from the ark?