Fleets need to embrace technology if they are to deal with growing levels of road congestion.
Government figures show that by 2030, road use will have risen by between 25% and 30%. This could add up to 11 million vehicles to the current 37-million vehicle parc.
However, in an age of austerity, large-scale publicly funded road-building projects will be few and far between.
Currently, the government is investing more than £1 billion to tackle areas of congestion and improve the national road network, and £500 million on local schemes. That’s on top of the £2.3bn planned investment in major roads announced in the Spending Review.
However, transport secretary Justine Greening admitted that “sustaining the performance of our road system will become increasingly difficult”.
The Government is instead exploring new ownership and financing models for the road network to increase the role of private investment, but she said “a fresh approach to investment is only part of the solution. We also need a smarter road network – one that can adapt to future changes in society and technology”.
Greening was speaking at a summit on ‘intelligent mobility’ hosted by the Automotive Council which highlighted how fleets have a “critical interest” in the debate.
The Automotive Council published a report in December 2011 – Intelligent Mobility, A National Need? – calling for integrated use of existing technology. It recognised the role of intelligent transport systems used by fleets, such as real-time vehicle tracking, but also predicted that these would need to interact with new and emerging technologies.
“Effective transport infrastructure, which enables people and goods to move freely around the country, is a necessary ingredient of a resilient and successful economy,” said Vince Cable, business secretary and co-chair of the Automotive Council. “Nearly two-thirds of goods are moved using the UK’s road network. We can’t afford for our transport networks to become clogged or gridlocked.”
Employers also have a role to play by investing in telecommunications for video/tele conferencing and developing a culture of flexible working whereby staff can work from home or while travelling on public transport. This would help reduce congestion levels, especially at peak times.
Analysis by the Cabinet Office suggests the cost of congestion is substantial, with £12bn lost through delays alone.
Cable added: “Increasing road capacity while tackling congestion means we will need to be more intelligent in managing the road network and the vehicles that use it.
“Intelligent mobility could also benefit the economy allowing businesses to be more competitive, reducing logistics costs, giving more predictable journey times and reducing CO2 emissions.
“Achieving an intelligent mobility solution will need different sectors and disciplines working together.”
One area that Greening believes Government can help is by opening up new sources of data, from providing information on MOTs to streetworks and road accidents.
In March, the Government announced plans to set up a transport systems’ Catapult Centre, which will get ground-breaking research out of the lab and into the marketplace.
It will be one of seven transport Catapults, which will support the development of industries and technologies important to the UK’s economic future.
The Catapult will provide facilities for businesses and researchers to develop innovations that will lead to integrated, efficient and sustainable national transport systems.
The Government is also collaborating with Innovits, MIRA and TRL on the ‘Innovits Advance’ facility, housed at MIRA’s headquarters in Nuneaton.
The research and development centre will enable the telecomms, automotive and electronics industries, along with highways authorities and operators, to develop, test and refine future transport technologies.
The facility is equipped with communications networks including GSM, 3G and wi-fi; roadside beacons and monitoring systems such as inductive loops, and precision position-monitoring technologies such as differential GPS, Ground Truth and Galileo based systems.
Greening added: “We’re making great headway on the environmental impact of road transport. Improvements in fuel efficiency and the development of hybrid electric vehicles mean that, despite an increase in traffic, CO2 emissions are set to fall significantly over the next 25 years.
“But perhaps our biggest challenge, given its economic, environmental and social cost, is making sure we tackle congestion. That means we all need to focus on solutions – be they managing demand, enabling travellers to make more informed decisions about their journeys and making the best use of existing networks and capacity.”