In the last 20-25 years there has been a discussion in Europe about the impact of freight transport by lorries and Heavy Good Vehicles (HGVs) on the environment because of the different kinds of pollution they generate such as noise, CO2 emissions, road occupancy, vibrations on bridges and viaducts, etc…
Many initiatives of the European Commission were put in place to reduce the movements of goods by these vehicles and reduce the passages of HGVs in towns; several projects were funded in this field to accelerate the transition from a traditional and polluting logistics to a green logistics, intermodal transport with the enhancement of trains use for larger journeys, creation of urban Freight Consolidation Centres (FCCs) where HGVs are stocked and related goods transferred on a few lighter/cleaner (i.e. electric) lorries that could enter cities and towns with a near-zero environmental footprint.
Some initiatives also included the launch of cargo bikes services to deliver goods in city streets in a 100% sustainable way.
Recent projects regard the implementation – in dedicated motorways lanes – of an aerial network of electric wires where suitable HGVs could get electricity (such as electric trains) and travel dozens/hundreds of kms in a completely green way.
Apart from the cost incurred in setting up these initiatives, which is not the topic of this editorial, another important issues was not properly taken into account: the quality of working life of HGV drivers.
Despite the EU imposed some regulations to protect drivers from an excessive number of driving hours that included the installation of tampering-proof chrono-tachographs, the situation of this category of drivers has become unsustainable.
This morning’s Financial Times article (“‘It’s not a normal life’: truck drivers warn of burnout as global shortage bites“, 31/08/2021) describes pretty well this issue: long hours spent on the job – although without driving and the cancellation of the 2nd driver for large journeys (to save money), for instance, have an impact of drivers’ quality of life, in particular the personal one. The immediate consequence is a steep decrease of the appeal of this job. The reduction of the number of HGV drivers has caused poor delivery services quality and, therefore, increased the risk of scarcity of goods in shops and supermarkets. It is important to notice that this issue regards the USA, Asia, the EU and the UK that has to bear an additional burden due to the effect of Brexit (e.g. dramatic increase of bureaucratic documents) which has worsened the overall situation.
“Increasingly, global trade is becoming more complex, consumers want quicker deliveries, and simply there are not enough skilled HGV drivers to handle this demand around the world” said Keith Newton, secretary-general of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport International.
This issue teaches a valuable lesson: every sector should be treated as a whole and interventions should not be limited to single aspects such as environment, vehicles, economy, profit, human resources. As a matter of fact, improvements and investments must satisfy all these aspects at the same time to be able to consider our society evolved compared to the past.
EPN Consulting Founder & CEO