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Lorries are only paying a third of the costs they impose on us all

Philippa Edmunds's picture
Graph: HGVs only pay a third of the costs they impose on the economy and society

HGVs are still only paying a third of the costs they impose on the economy and society in terms of road congestion, road crashes, road damage and pollution costs. This means HGVs are being subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £6 billion a year.

These figures come from a report carried out by the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit (MTRU) for Campaign for Better Transport this year, using Government figures.

 HGVs only pay a third of the costs they impose on the economy and society

Looking just at road damage such as potholes, HGVs only cover 11 per cent of their road infrastructure costs, despite what the Freight Transport Association claims. Lorries cause far more damage to foundations and structures of roads than cars because the damaging power rises exponentially as weight increases, known as the Generalised Fourth Power Law.

The standard 44 tonne HGV, which is the industry workhorse, causes 136,000 times more damage to road infrastructure than a Ford Focus. (In comparison a much smaller and lighter 7.5 tonne lorry is 3,000 times more damaging than a Ford Focus and yet there is no differentiation in the charging of differing lorry weights).

A 44 tonne HGV causes 136,000 times more damage to road infrastructure than a Ford Focus

The criticism comes at the time that the ALARM Survey, the annual road condition survey published by the Asphalt Industries Association, found more than 24,000 miles of local/urban road has been identified as needing essential maintenance within the next year. 

Local/urban roads, which make up 98 per cent of roads, are not designed to take the volume of these large lorries, so the poor state of repair on these local and urban roads is no coincidence. And yet the road haulage industry is saying that their lorries are being damaged by the existing poor state of local roads for which they are largely responsible!

Motorways are built to a higher specification to cater for larger amounts of heavy lorry traffic.

Freight Transport Association report is flawed

Heavy Goods Vehicles: Do they pay their way? - impacts on road surfaces was produced by RepGraph for the Freight Transport Association. This report claimed that HGVs pay three times more than their estimated damage costs to infrastructure. But our analysis shows that the report is flawed, based on out-of-date figures and incorrect assumptions, and in fact HGVs only cover 11 per cent of their road damage costs.

We need distance-based lorry charging

The Government needs to introduce distance-based charging, instead of the existing daily charge, in its current review of the Lorry Road User Levy, to better reflect HGV costs, encourage more efficient lorry use of the road network and reduce unnecessary lorry miles. Government figures show that only a third (34 per cent) of HGVs are full in terms of load volume; meanwhile another third (30 per cent) are driving around completely empty  - a figure which has been growing for some years.

Only a third (34 per cent) of HGVs are full in terms of load volume; meanwhile another third (30 per cent) are driving around completely empty

The German distance based system reduced empty running by 11% between 2005 and 2008 to around 18%. Prior to its introduction it had similar levels to the UK. Distance-based tolls have also reduced tonne kilometres in Germany because of better loading rates. In Austria, the introduction of the charge per km for trucks reduced the percentage of empty vehicles from 21.1 per cent in 1999 to 15.7 per cent in 2004 with  average load growing 0.6 tonnes to 14.7 tonnes in the same period.

Reducing unnecessary lorry miles reduces the adverse impacts of HGVs. The latest Government figures show that HGVs are almost seven times more likely than cars to be involved in fatal collisions on minor roads.

Furthermore, the revenues from the distance based charging could be recycled into supporting the quality of logistics through improved driver facilities, training and incentives to buy less polluting vehicles and technology which will help the viability and operations of SMEs. Crucially, the evidence shows that distance-based tolls can be beneficial to society without placing an unbearable financial burden on freight transport or having a noticeable impact on consumer prices.

It is the duty of the Government to make sure that the full impacts of freight transport on the economy, the environment and society are taken into account and not just the narrow interests of road haulage operators.

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