• Industry case for bigger lorries just doesn’t add up

    Editorial by Nina Renshaw The Commission is due to discuss a freight logistics action plan later this year. The maximum dimensions of lorries is expected to be one of the issues under debate. Once again, T&E will be urging the Commission to look at the big picture, and concentrate on optimising the efficiency and reducing the environmental impacts of all transport modes, particularly through true pricing – because the economic and environmental case for LHLs put forward by the industry just doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]Gigaliners, jumbo trucks, monster trucks, even Öko-Kombis – there are many words around to describe an increasingly common sight around Europe: longer and heavier lorries (LHLs).

    LHLs are already operating in Finland and Sweden, but the road haulage industry is pushing to expand their use beyond the Nordic countries. Trials have been done in the Netherlands and Germany, Denmark has recently approved a national trial, a study is under way in Great Britain, and the French government is considering an experiment with them. LHLs are lorries up to 25.25 metres long and 60 tonnes loaded weight, and the industry wants them to be allowed across the whole continent.

    Yet the environmental arguments put forward in favour of LHLs are seriously flawed. Fundamentally, the industry fails to take account of the massive surge in demand that would follow the introduction of a significantly cheaper business model for road freight. Studies have shown that a 1% decrease in the price of road freight results in an increase in volume of 0.8%. The costs savings for LHLs are estimated at 20-25%! The surge in demand and ‘reverse modal shift’ (from rail and waterways back to road) that would follow would certainly cancel out any environmental gains from increased efficiency.

    A key problem here is the EU’s continued failure to deliver a road charging framework that accounts for external costs (the Eurovignette debate). Not one EU member state operates a road charging system that reflects the true costs of pollution and road accidents. Most have no charging system at all, which leaves them further from internalising external costs. This is crucial in the LHLs debate, because of the huge costs of upgrading surfaces, bridges and tunnels to accommodate huge lorries.

    If there was a charging framework that accounted for all costs, the financial attractiveness of LHLs would be severely reduced. Yet without one, the rest of society – including non-motorists – would pick up the bill, while the road transport industry cashes in on cheaper trucking.

    Several studies show that the larger trucks would also take a big bite out of the market share of rail, waterways and intermodal transport. Where would that leave the EU’s goals to tackle transport growth and support cleaner modes? Again, the EU needs a rethink.

    Reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from using LHLs are not as dramatic as the industry suggests, particularly once the trucks are loaded over 50 tonnes. Illegal overloading has been found to be a problem in Sweden, with LHLs sometimes carrying up to 90 tonnes. In terms of CO2 emissions, railways and waterways are still better suited to transporting heavy loads.

    And a big question mark still hangs over safety, which will be the biggest fear of other road users, particularly if LHLs drive on minor roads or near residential areas. They present an even bigger danger when illegal overloading takes place as has been seen in Sweden. Is it likely that local authorities will have the resources to police the entire road network to make sure huge trucks don’t stray from approved routes, and that no trucks are overloaded?

    This news story is taken from the May 2007 edition of T&E Bulletin.