Road freight on the rise despite environmental impact

More freight is being carried on our roads, and by bigger lorries, than ten years ago, according to figures released by the Department for Transport this week.

The department's Continuing Survey of Road Goods Transport was released this week and shows that trucks are carrying slightly more year on year, but the increase is not as fast as that of the UK's GDP.

The results of the annual survey are based on a questionnaire sent out to the owners of over 17,000 heavy goods vehicles.

Key findings include:

  • Freight moved by GB-registered heavy goods vehicles within Great Britain increased by 0.3% from 151.7 billion tonne kilometres in 2003 to 152.2 billion tonne kilometres in 2004
  • Total freight moved increased by 10% between 1994 and 2004 which was less than the rise in Gross Domestic Product of 32%
  • Articulated vehicles over 33 tonnes gross weight continue to account for an increasing share of all goods moved: 72% of total tonne kilometres in 2004, compared with 60% in 1994
  • Freight lifted increased by 6% from 1,643 million tonnes in 2003 to 1,744 million tonnes in 2004.
  • freight lifted increased by 9 per cent between 1994 and 2004.

    Meanwhile environmental research body Trucost chose the same week to release its report Climate Change and the UK Road Transport Sector.

    The report reiterates that the transport sector is a significant contributor to carbon dioxide emissions worldwide with road transport in the UK responsible for 26% of the country's total output.

    Globalisation has led to long and fragmented supply chains and road transport dominates the UK transport sector.

    The report looks at the thorny issue of increasing tax on fuel to reflect road travel's impact on the environment.

    "Fuel taxes paid by the UK road transportation sector exceed the environmental damage costs of its carbon dioxide emissions by a factor of 2.6 times," it says.

    "This means that the scope to increase fuel taxes to reflect climate change concerns is limited by the competitive disadvantage that UK operators would face."

    When considering alternatives, Trucost found the rail network was already overcrowded and faced severe capacity restraints and this could only be addressed with serious investment into the infrastructure.

    Alternative fuel types, hybrid technology and fuel cells were identified as the most promising solutions to transport-related carbon dioxide emissions and the report argued that a combination of fuel tax and charges for road-use were likely to provide the biggest benefits to the environment in the short term.

    By Sam Bond

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