Freight monitoring technology has allowed the private sector to increase efficiency through better supply chain management. AECOM’s Michael Whittaker and Kit Allwinter say the public sector has much to gain from making more use of the available technologies.
Over the the past 20 years, freight logistics has advanced rapidly due to an explosion in data, telematics and capacity management tech-nology, not to mention the ability to store, analyse and learn.
With margins low and competition high, the private sector has leapt on such technologies to improve supply chain management, driving down costs and increasing efficiency across company fleets, even as delivery windows have tightened and standards increased.
Up-to-the-minute information is easily available for deliveries, with 15-minute delivery windows available on everything from individual Amazon parcels to truckloads of car components and real-time tracking of container trains.
Despite this, awareness about freight movements still eludes many, from policymakers to infrastructure providers, regulators to customers.
The public sector has access to some data, but it could be better utilised to understand current freight flows across the nation.
At a local authority level, even logistics centres such as Warrington or Sefton in the north-west have little information beyond
- The percentage of vehicles on their roads that are heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).
- Extracts from the (somehow still) paper-based Continuing Survey of Road Goods Traffic.
- A local planning officer’s knowledge of the transport assessments done for any recent industrial developments.
If we are to meet our commitments on emission reductions and tackle congestion, this has to change.
In areas where air quality is poor, this should be a priority.
In such places, local authorities are responsible for the implementing clean air zones (CAZs), a Government policy designed to discourage the use of older, more polluting vehicles.
Although the introduction has been delayed until coronavirus is overcome, the crisis is seeing an uptick in the use of private vehicles and an increasing reliance on deliveries, which could exacerbate the problem.
It doesn’t need to be this way, with much data currently untapped.
For example, Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras across the nation’s strategic road network could provide a better sectoral analysis of the firms owning the vehicles.
Authorities could also plug into Network Rail, which has detailed data on rail freight transport for track access billing purposes, while third party logistics firms working across modes know how these flows combine.
At a national level, the Great Britain Freight Model (GBFM) provides a detailed prediction of freight demand within GB for the Department for Transport (DfT).
Consultation with industry bodies such as the Road Haulage Association, Logistics UK, Rail Freight Group, British Ports Association and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport complete the picture.
Yet stirrings of change are on the horizon. Seven English sub-national transport bodies are taking an increased interest in logistics and starting to evolve their freight policies and strategies. However, they seem to be following the national approach of using models and qualitative consultation, rather than exploring data mining and analysis.