IME calls for national multimodal strategy to tackle congestion and air quality

The government urgently needs to create a national multimodal strategy to reduce congestion, improve air quality and boost the economy, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME).

In its report published this week – UK freight: in for the long haul – the IME argues that a multimodal freight strategy is necessary to ensure more efficient use of national infrastructure.

Philippa Oldham, IME transport head, explained: “We currently have empty lorries on our roads, delivering shipping cargo to ports where demand for goods is on the other side of the country.

“And [we have] to wait for air cargo to undergo approval tests in other counties before being allowed to be processed through customs,” she said.

The IME said estimates put the cost of congestion to the UK economy at £13bn per year, with poor air quality being responsible for about 29,000 premature deaths each year.

“A national strategy which looks at the entire range of transport methods used to deliver freight would have the potential to ease congestion, improve air quality and boost the economy,” Oldham added.

According to the report, up to 30% of all haulage vehicles on UK roads are empty with trucks travelling around  150 million miles unnecessarily.

It argues that a national strategy could ensure better use of urban consolidation centres to organise joint local deliveries, greater ‘horizontal’ collaboration between operators to reduce empty running and wider use of online vehicle load brokerages.

The report added: “It is fully understood that the need for logistics companies to share data openly will cause concerns over competitiveness and commercial sensitivity,” suggesting intermediaries such as Network Rail could manage the data.

The IME also questions why, when 65% of the UK population lives within a 150-mile radius of Liverpool Port, 91% of the UK’s deep-sea goods enter or leave via either Southampton or Felixstowe. 

“It is estimated to equate to 150 million wasted road miles, 200,000 additional truck journeys ― increasing road congestion ― and creates about 0.2 million tonnes of unnecessary CO2 emissions from moving goods to where they are needed,” the report said.


However, both the FTA and RHA attacked IME’s claim that up to 30% of all haulage vehicles on UK roads are empty – pointing out that the figure includes petrol and milk tankers, which can’t be back-loaded with anything else.

Regarding the claim of wasted lorry miles, FTA’s head of national and regional policy, Christopher Snelling, said: “These deep sea ships will call at south-east UK ports as one call out of six or seven in the northern European sea corridor – that is northern France through to the Baltic.

“There is no prospect of them diverting en masse to north-west England. There are many great opportunities for maximising the use of ports like Liverpool for the UK supply chain, but for the IME to suggest in isolation that these road miles are simply done without need, is misleading.”