News

Government outlines £2m fund to promote hydrogen vehicles

Written on May 18, 2016

Fleets in both the public and private sectors will be eligible to get 75 per cent off the cost of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles thanks to a new £2m Government fund.

The Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) Fleet Support Scheme has been set up to allow local authorities, police services, fire brigades and private companies to bid for funding in order to add hydrogen-vehicles to their existing fleets.

The fund was launched by the Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and has the potential to increase the number of hydrogen fuel cell cars and vans on the UK’s roads by 100 by next spring.

In 2014, the government committed an additional £5m for 12 hydrogen refuelling stations, with Transport Minister Andrew Jones launching the second of the stations on May 10th. All 12 stations are expected to be opened by the end of 2016: the first step towards a national network.

Mr Jones said: “We are always looking at new ways to make the vehicles of the future cleaner, and hydrogen fuel cells are an important part of our vision for almost all cars and vans to be zero-emission by 2050.

“This funding, along with the growing network of hydrogen refuelling stations opening in England, will help businesses and the public sector to get on board with this exciting technology. This is further proof that we are leading the way in making journeys cleaner and protecting the environment.”

The subsidy should allow businesses to cover up to 75 per cent of the costs for the new vehicles bought by April 2017.

The market for Hydrogen FCEVs is still relatively new but is already beginning to gather pace, with vehicle manufacturers so far introducing a small number of models and global production currently limited to a few thousand units. The UK is one of only five launch markets for the unique market: both Hyundai and Toyota have already released their debut FCEV models.

Tony Whitehorn, CEO, Hyundai Motor UK, said: “When we made the ix35 Fuel Cell commercially available we were blazing a trail, and we made a commitment to help in the development of the refuelling infrastructure – the fruits of which can clearly be seen with this, and other station launches happening this year.

“We also know how well received the ix35 Fuel Cell is with our existing fleet customers so we’re very happy to be involved with the government’s new £2m fund to encourage more businesses to switch to hydrogen.”

EU data regulation aims to protect driver privacy

Written on May 13, 2016

A new set of data protection regulations have been introduced by the European Parliament to try and protect the privacy of drivers in light of the increase in connectivity within company car and van fleets.

In future, drivers will need to provide a much higher level of consent, and the definition of what currently constitutes personal data will also be changed. There will also be far tougher sanctions for those falling foul of the rules.

Businesses operating fleets will have two years to comply with the new regulations, which were introduced in order to combat issues arising from connected products and services, in which vehicles are included.

Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission, said: “Individuals must be empowered; they must know what their rights are and know how to defend their rights if they feel they are not respected.

“The new rules will ensure that the fundamental right to personal data protection is guaranteed for all.”

Connectivity is becoming increasingly common in both cars and vans, with sat-nav units and apps like Google Maps being used to plan longer journeys.

Experts predict that 90 per cent of new cars will be connected by 2020 and that real-time information will be shared on a mass scale as standard.

Though manufacturers have been keen to highlight the huge potential economic and environmental benefits of the technology, there are obviously a number of issues that will need to be dealt with.
Erik Jonnaert, Secretary General for the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) noted there were “many challenges on the road ahead”.

The new regulations are included under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which currently only apply to personal data. However, because the definition of personal data is also changing, it’s considered likely that much of the data produced by fleets will be included.

Legal expert, Stephen Appt, said: “Data that identifies drivers indirectly would be considered personal data.

“This legal framework will not only apply to data in the EU, it will apply to everybody supplying goods and services to the EU.”

Driver consent for data-sharing services will become crucial: consent must be ‘unambiguous’ and confirmed by some form of ‘statement or clear affirmative action’.

“Pre-ticked boxes will not constitute consent,” added Appt.

DfT releases latest motoring strategy

Written on May 9, 2016

The Department for Transport (DfT) has published its latest Motoring Services Strategy, with the aim of improving the digital services currently available for fleets.

The 27-page report explores work in the DVLA, DVSA and the VCA and makes a number of potential suggestions and proposals for the continued development of the department. Particular reference was made to account responses that occurred at a consultation held towards the end of 2015, with the BVRLA among those contributing.

Five key commitments of the report include:

• The reform of the Drivers Medical Group. This decision was substantially influenced by the Glasgow Bin Lorry deaths of 2014.
• The simplification of driver record updates.
• The increase and development of relationships with commercial users, including professional fleets, as well as the introduction of new digital services.
• The possible merging of both DVSA and DVLA call centres.
• The improvement of current LGV licencing processes.

The DVSA will soon roll out a new Operator Excellence scheme for trusted fleet operators: this will be based on the current earned recognition pilot scheme.

Gerry Keaney, chief executive, BVRLA, said: “When we responded to the consultation in January this year, we urged the Government to think about fleets as well as customers. It is therefore pleasing to see Lord Ahmad pledge to work with commercial fleets and drivers to promote best practice.

“We welcome the news that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) will work to introduce new improved digital channels for accessing their services. We will be pushing for this to include the ability for fleets to pay Vehicle Excise Duty for multiple years, and to apply for bulk refunds online.”

The report admitted that some of the current services were “not designed with fleet managers in mind,” and also noted that the bodies were now more committed to strengthening relationships with corporate users at a “practical level.”

The strategy also detailed a commitment to move HGV testing to a mixed economy inclusive of both public and private provision.

James Firth, the Freight Transport Association’s head of licensing policy and compliance information, said: “We are pleased that Government has committed to have a proper look at allowing non-government employees to examine the LGV annual roadworthiness test – many FTA members have been asking for this for some years.”

Automated vehicles should require ‘driving tests’

Written on May 6, 2016

A new report from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) has called for ‘driving tests’ to be introduced within EU safety approval rules for automated and fully-autonomous vehicles.

The ETSC said that the EU has yet to answer the range of research and regulatory questions that will need to be considered before both automated and autonomous vehicles can be sold.

The report called for the promised safety benefits to be given priority, with one of the main potential issues being the ability of the cars to follow national road rules in 28 different EU countries. It’s for this reason that a ‘comprehensive’ driver test will need to be introduced.

A number of questions over how autonomous vehicles will be able to interact within other human-driven vehicles remain, as well as how they will interact with vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Antonio Avenoso, executive director for the ETSC, said: “Automated vehicles are already starting to appear on Europe’s roads, but regulators are still stuck in the slow lane.

“It is crucial that we get a much greater understanding of what the real world safety benefits would be, and what new risks would be introduced before these vehicles are put on sale.”

The ETSC has called for short-term measures to be introduced, including the mandatory installation of effective and proven driver assistance systems including both Automated Emergency Breaking (AEB) and over ridable Intelligent Speed Assistance in all cars. They’ve also called for a new EU framework to be developed in order to approve future automated technologies and autonomous vehicles.

EU driving license regulations will also need to be updated in order to reflect the natural need for drivers to be able to safely take back command from automated systems. Another claim is that EU rules on road infrastructure safety need to be revised in order to include requirements for automated and semi-automated vehicles, such as unique and clear road markings.

‘Gear 2030’, a high-level expert group tasked to address future development of the automotive industry, was launched by the European Commission’s industry department.

A14 improvement scheme given green light

Written on May 2, 2016

A new £1.5bn scheme to improve the A14 – in a bid to relieve congestion and connect communities in the East of England – has been given the go-ahead.

Highways England have already welcomed the decision.

The main phase of the scheme will be to add extra capacity to the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, with construction work to start in late 2016. Further details regarding the scheme will be announced in due course.

The project will cover 21 miles of road and will also include the building of a new bypass of Huntingdon set between Brampton and Swavesey. Other improvements will include the widening of the A1 between Brampton and Alconbury, widening the A14 between Swavesey and Milton and the improvement of the junctions at Bar Hill, Girton, Histon, Milton and Swavesey.

Chris Taylor, the director for complex structure at Highways England, who will be responsible for leading the improvement scheme, said: “The scheme will provide much needed additional capacity to improve journey times and safety.

“We are keen to keep the momentum going and will get preparations for construction underway as soon as possible after the end of the six-week statutory challenge period.”

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has also welcomed the decision, with head of road network management policy, Malcolm Bingham adding:

“We look for an early start to the sets of works and a system that will inform freight operators and motorists about disruptions that could be caused. Reliable and timely information will give freight operators the chance to better plan their journeys while the construction is taking place.”

The bypass and widened lanes will open fully to traffic in 2020, though some finishing work is expected to continue beyond that date.

MPs keen to deploy more average speed cameras across the UK

Written on April 28, 2016

MPs have stated their desire to implement more average speed cameras along the UK’s main roads in a bid to catch more motorists that drive too quickly.

The combined figure of detected motoring offences has more than halved during the last 10 years. In 2004, the number of driving offences totalled 4.33 million, but figures for 2013 – the last year for which figures are available – amounted to 1.62 million.

MPs within the Transport Committee feel that some of this reduction may be due to decreased detection, following significant budget cuts to road traffic police.

Subsequently, there’s a desire among MPs to ensure detection rates are higher, via specialised traffic officers or greater use of technology.

The Transport Committee’s report on road traffic enforcement across the UK says speed cameras are an “important and effective part of the technology toolkit” and, if enforcement is going to be effective, greater use of technology is essential.

The report adds that average speed cameras are largely “better received by motorists than traditional fixed speed cameras”, but existing schemes should be assessed for their long-term effectiveness. Based on this, Highways England should develop best practice for their deployment.

The report also states that speed camera placement must relate to safety rather than revenue with regards to improving speed limit compliance, with reductions in road casualties the number-one priority.

“We recommend that the Government monitor the placement of speed cameras by local authorities to ensure that this is the case,” the report continues.

“Where revenue is taken from speed camera enforcement, the funding arrangements must be transparent and the revenue put back into road safety grants rather than kept by local authorities or the Treasury.”

The majority (90 per cent) of fixed penalty notices issued for exceeding the speed limit were camera-detected in England and Wales throughout 2014, accounting for 668,081 out of 743,054 fixed penalty notices.

Meanwhile data from the Department for Transport (DfT) indicates that breaking the speed limit was a contributory factor in 254 fata road accidents in 2014 – almost a fifth (16 per cent) of all fatal accidents and 1,199 serious road accidents.

David Davies, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) told the Transport Committee that the new average speed camera scheme on the A9 in Scotland – now the longest dual carriageway stretch of road with average speed cameras – has resulted in “safety and traffic benefits” that have, to date, been “substantial”.

UK fleet industry divided on Brexit proposals

Written on April 25, 2016

The UK fleet industry is at odds over whether costs would rise as a consequence of leaving the European Union (EU), according to a poll of Fleet News readers.

Almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of respondents believe their bottom line would not be negatively affected, while the remaining 39 per cent feel that fleet costs will increase in the event of the so-called ‘Brexit’.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) recently voiced concerns about the potential charges that could be imposed on fleets in the event of a Brexit.

An SMMT spokesman said: “The UK’s membership allows components and finished vehicles to be imported and exported across the world’s largest single market without tariffs, which helps to keep costs down.

“In the event of a Brexit, we would lose this automatic right and there is no guarantee we would be able to renegotiate such beneficial terms.

“It could take years for new trading deals to be agreed, and we could face tariffs of up to 10 per cent – a significant cost in an industry with notoriously tight margins.”

Further costs could then be passed on to fleet customers through increased rental costs, minimal discounts and higher P11D charges.

Recent analysis from The AA indicates that, in the event of Brexit and a possible fall in the price of sterling, fleets could be forced to pay hundreds of pounds more to fill up their vehicles with fuel.
The Press Association reports that, in a “worst case scenario”, fuel prices could soar by as much as 18.7p per litre.

Edmund King, president, The AA, said: “We don’t take a view as to whether the UK should leave the European Union as that is up to people to decide in a referendum.

“However, even before the referendum vote, it seems that financial reports suggest leaving the EU could lead to a sharp fall in the value of the pound which in turn could hit pump prices within days.

“The instability of the pound – combined with Opec countries already looking to freeze oil output and the usual increase in fuel use during the US motoring season – could mean a significant rise in costs.”
However, the founder of campaign group, FairFuelUK, Howard Cox, labelled The AA’s claims “ill-informed”.

“If the pound remains stable and oil remains low due to over production, then it will still be down to George Osborne what we pay at the pumps.”

The RAC was equally cautious about the impact of an EU exit and possible fuel price hikes.

Simon Williams, RAC fuel spokesman, said: “While the RAC has no view on the UK’s membership of the EU, the impact on fuel prices of Britain exiting is not likely to be as dramatic as motorists might be led to think.

“While the strength of the pound is a significant factor in the price motorists pay for petrol and diesel due to wholesale fuel being traded in dollars, the oil price is currently a greater influence.

“Opec appears to be sticking with the general principles of its over-production strategy, so there is little reason to expect anything to change drastically in the meantime.

“And, even after that, if the barrel price was to go above $60 it would signal a major move away from Opec’s strategy to maintain market share through a lower price and make it financially unattractive for the US to produce oil from fracking.”

Commercial fleets told to improve working conditions

Written on April 21, 2016

Transport minister, Lord Ahmad has claimed the UK’s commercial fleet industry must do more to improve working conditions if it is to solve an existing driver crisis.

Lord Ahmad told MPs that the Government was doing what it can to recruit and retain HGV drivers, but admitted that any long-term solution “must be industry-led”.

“I think conditions need to be improved. The roadside facilities available are not up to standard,” said Lord Ahmad.

“We also need to ensure that the criteria set down for ensuring that drivers have their rest periods, in accordance with the regulations, are applied fairly, adequately and effectively across the industry.”

However, Lord Ahmad didn’t go as far as suggesting HGV driver wages needed to increase, instead suggesting it was “for the market to set what sort of wages are competitive”.

“If you compare how earnings have increased in 2014, we have seen about a 4% increase in the sector and I think that’s reflective of the growing demand in the industry more generally,” added Lord Ahmad.

The fleet industry estimates that it is short of some 45,000 HGV drivers, while figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) claims that almost 80,000 qualified HGV drivers with a valid driver CPC are opting not to work in the industry at present.

Lord Ahmad, who was providing evidence to the Transport Committee, stated the Government “has a role to play” in helping the commercial fleet industry to provide “solutions for the shortage”.

Lord Ahmad told the committee that the additional recruitment of 195 new HGV examiners will dramatically reduce test waiting times from six to three weeks by the summer.

According to ReturnLoads.net, the top three factors affecting HGV driver recruitment and retention are poor wages, poor facilities and their poor overall treatment.

Following a recent survey of more than 400 commercial drivers, it was found that 96 per cent felt the best way to attract new recruits or retain existing HGV drivers was by increasing wages (96 per cent) and improving facilities (88 per cent).

A spokesman for ReturnLoads.net said: “What is quite worrying is the 36 per cent of drivers who say they are not treated well by the companies they drive for.

“Even more worrying is the 78 per cent who would not recommend becoming a professional HGV driver.

“The survey results have highlighted issues, which, if not addressed, could result in more HGV drivers leaving the industry and fewer drivers coming in.”

‘Smart’ motorway section opens on the M1

Written on April 18, 2016

A new Highways England scheme between junction 28 (Mansfield) and junction 31 (Worksop) of the M1 motorway went live this week, permanently converting the hard shoulder into an additional lane.
The £205 million project, designed to improve journey times and reduce congestion along the 20-mile section, is the first smart motorway in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.

Variable speed limits will be utilised along this section in a bid to keep vehicles moving and putting an end to the stop-start driving conditions of the past. It is part of a £15 billion Government investment in Britain’s motorways and A-roads by 2021, which should have considerable benefits for the fleet industry.

Andrew Jones, roads minister, said: “The completion of the smart motorway on this section of the M1 will make a real difference to people travelling between Mansfield, Chesterfield and Worksop, delivering better and smoother journeys, helping businesses and boosting the local economy.

“This is all part of our plans to build a road network that is fit for the future, with a record £15 billion going into improving our roads, reducing congestion and keeping Britain moving.”

Contractors for Highways England have worked 1.75 million combined hours in order to complete the scheme, which will improve journeys for as many as 95,000 drivers a day using this stretch of road.

A similar smart motorway scheme was completed last year on the M25 helped to halve the busiest journey times whilst reduce the number of road collisions by 20 per cent.

Andy Kirk, senior programme manager, Highways England, said: “The new smart motorway will tackle congestion and improve journey times for the thousands of drivers who use it every day.

“The hard shoulder has been permanently converted to an extra lane to significantly increase capacity, and we’ll keep vehicles moving using variable speed limits.

“We’d also like to thank drivers for their co-operation during the work and look forward to improving journey times for those travelling between the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.”

Note: Drivers using the upgraded smart stretch of the M1 will also be able to use emergency refuge areas in the event of a breakdown.

Lack of benefit-in-kind tax data for 2020/21 creates confusion for fleets

Written on April 14, 2016

The Chancellor’s decision not to reveal benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax rates for 2020/21 in his Budget 2016 speech means fleets could be forced to order company cars without knowing how much tax they will have to pay towards them.

Treasury revenue forecasts within the Budget documents indicate that BIK rates could rise by as much as three percentage points. As an industry example, BIK tax on an 109g/km diesel car would rise from 21 per cent in 2016/17 to 31 per cent in 2020/21.

The Chancellor’s inability to disclose BIK rates five years in advance reverses a recent trend and subsequently fleets and their drivers running company cars into a fifth year will not be able to plan ahead. This confusion has left many within the fleet industry frustrated.

Paul Tate, commodity manager at Siemens, who operates 3,000 cars on a four-year cycle, says the Chancellor’s decision will make it “impossible” for him to give employees the full implications of taking a particular vehicle.

“It’s imperative the figure is released as soon as possible, to allow employees to make an informed choice and not put more pain on businesses if there is a sudden sharp increase,” said Tate.

This concern was echoed further by Paul Brown, fleet manager, Enserve Group, who said the current BIK tax uncertainty was affecting the running of his fleet.

“You can fix your budgets on contracts and contract terms. You know that you’re going to have that fixed cost against your four-year contract,” said Brown.

“It’s the same for the individual who is taking the car – they don’t want to take a car and then find out a year later the goal posts have changed.”

However, Budget documents suggest the Chancellor is looking to raise a further £320m for HM Treasury in 2020/21.

It also indicates that HMRC is already aware of the 2020/21 BIK rates but has not yet opted to reveal them; especially when the same Treasury documents show previously announced BIK increases – based on a three percentage point increase – will raise an additional £315m in 2019/20.

So while fleets could tentatively plan for a further three percentage point rise in 2020/21, frustration still lingers that the Chancellor is yet to provide clarity for the industry.