This week’s news that the UK government is set to ban trucks and vans from city centres was slightly disingenuous and poorly reported, but it does give rise to some questions over sustainability and infrastructure.
City living is set to increase not just in the UK but around the world, as more people trade country living for the convenience of the urban jungle. By 2050 the population of the average city will have increased by 24% from today, creating more demand for goods and services that satisfies the need for immediate consumer fulfilment with minimal disruption.
Personal mobility will need to keep up with growth, particularly as the trend moves away from vehicle ownership to a shared model where cars and motorcycles become a convenient choice for the many, without the cost of depreciation, maintenance and repairs.
But it’s the delivery of goods that’s at stake here, and the need to meet demand using zero or ultra-low carbon vehicles is (almost) set in stone so logistics companies need to start preparing now for what’s around the corner.
A while ago I wrote a blog about creating a pipeline network to help facilitate deliveries into city centres, and with hyperloop and similar tech already being tested we know it will be possible to transport people and stuff quickly and efficiently. Couple that with the potential for aerial deliveries fulfilled by drones and airships and it’s not difficult to see that the volume of trucks and vans will start to decline, no doubt leading to improved air quality and less pollution-related deaths.
However, before all that we have the more immediate future to think about, which is the transition from Euro 6 engines to hybrid and full EV solutions (Euro 7 maybe?). Although low emissions and full EV trucks have started to hit the market the cost of these vehicles is still comparatively high, and for the smaller sub-contractor who can’t afford to buy a new truck the options will be extremely limited on the second-hand market, leading to a slow-down in the transition from fuel to electric.
Capacity is another factor. While technology is improving all the time the maximum payload of a full EV is currently limited to 26 tonnes, and though the likes of DAF are planning to produce a 40 tonne truck it will have a paltry 100km range, and that’s with optimum driving conditions.
So unless the range improves and payload ability increases take-up will be slow, which again will delay improvements to air quality around our cities.
Then there’s the question of infrastructure. To promote the uptake of EV trucks (and buses for that matter) there needs to be a guaranteed network of ultra-fast charging points readily available, so perhaps a short term answer is to site them on fuel forecourts, but there’ll need to be a cap on the price that oil companies charge for electric.
And what about the range of EV’s? It’s reasonably straightforward to predict the range of a diesel tank but if there’s so many variables with battery tech then will our roads be littered with ‘flat trucks’ waiting to be rescued by a man with a massive powerpack?
Perhaps the long term answer lies beneath our feet. Or rather in the ground. As costly as it may be, unconnected charging systems laid beneath the surface will ultimately provide constant top-up, removing range anxiety and providing the government with a means to collect taxes, potentially bypassing the old oil companies altogether. It might also make our roads more robust, with potholes confined to the history books.
If and when they dig up the roads they might want to think about laying guidance systems at the same time; a stable future solution for full vehicle autonomy will not be found in the orbiting satellites that rely on uninterrupted signals, nor will it be found using current onboard radar tech, which relies on a limited number of changes to road layout, architecture and objects. It will need a more integrated solution and what better way than within the road that the truck will travel on?
Whatever the future the UK government needs to ensure that the logistics industry doesn’t suffer unfairly and that enough time is given to make the transition viable and achievable.
A government consultation on the subject runs from now until 10 September 2018;
Reckon it’s worth putting your point across…