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E-cargo bikes will only ever play specific role, says FTA

Government steps to cut pollution and congestion from urban freight – including through e-cargo bikes – are heading in the right direction but it needs to be more realistic on how urban transport works.

The Future of mobility: urban strategy will explore whether new types of vehicles including e-scooters and e-cargo bike trailers could be made legal on UK roads

That’s the view of the Freight Transport Association (FTA), following publication of the Department for Transport’s ‘Future of mobility: urban strategy’ paper.

Published yesterday, the major policy publication outlines how the Government will explore regulation around new transport modes and invest £90m in ‘future mobility zones’ to test transport innovation.

Intended to open up more sustainable and easier mobility options, the Future of mobility: urban strategy will explore whether new types of vehicles including e-scooters and e-cargo bike trailers could and should be made legal on UK roads. It will also explore how sharing data can improve services by reducing congestion, and how journey planning and payment can be made more simple.

The strategy, which forms part of the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy, also sets out nine key principles that will guide government decision-making going forward, ensuring that emerging transport technologies are safe, accessible and green.

This includes the principle that mobility innovation must help to reduce congestion through more efficient use of limited road space, for example through sharing rides, increasing occupancy or consolidating freight.

And it also talks about the shift to zero-emission car and van transport, reiterating the Road to Zero strategy of an ambition is for at least 50%, and as many as 70%, of new car sales to be ultra-low emission by 2030, as well as up to 40% of new van sales.

Freight is also mentioned in a reference to how new models based on sharing have the potential to increase efficiency and reduce empty miles. A Chinese truck-hailing firm connecting truck drivers with shippers raised $1.9bn in one of the largest private equity funding rounds of 2018, according to the document.

However, according to Christopher Snelling, FTA’s head of UK policy, the document fails to make a single substantive mention of HGVs, despite the fact that they are, and will remain, the major method of urban delivery:

“The two mistakes everyone makes are firstly that urban freight is about vans, and secondly that vans are all about freight – neither of these things is true.  The UK’s towns and cities rely on 2.5m tonnes of goods being delivered to them every day by HGV, far outweighing what is delivered by van.  And most vans are used by the services industries (electricians, plumbers, utilities companies) and are nothing to do with freight. FTA’s concern is that this fundamentally underestimates the key role that consolidation needs to play in making our urban transport networks work as we need them to.”

Snelling also says the same issue is seen with the focus in the document on e-cargo bikes.

He added: “These are great – it is our members that are trialling them – but at best they will only ever play a specific role in certain types of delivery.  Done wrongly, downsizing vehicles would lead to more congestion, not less – one medium-sized lorry can carry as much as 10 vans, one van can carry as much as 10 e-cargo bikes.  All these vehicle types are needed, but none can or should replace the other.

“Aside from this general disappointment, FTA agrees that the practical actions actually proposed in the Strategy are sensible and will be beneficial to industry and our urban areas. These include reviews of regulations and further support for development and use of e-vans and e-cargo bikes.”

Snelling concluded: “The Government is taking some of the right steps here on improving the way our towns and cities are supplied with the goods they need – it’s just a shame that the focus of the document will mislead people about the realities of urban transport.”

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Written by Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.

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