Operators and manufacturers have given strong support for a DfT proposal, currently under consultation, to allow category B (car) licence holders to operate heavier vans if they are fitted with alternative fuel systems.
It has been welcomed by those firms wishing to increase their use of low-emission delivery vehicles without losing out on payload or needing to acquire a category C licence.
The DfT proposes that standard licence holders be allowed to drive vans weighing up to 4.25 tonnes if they are powered by electricity, natural gas, LPG or hydrogen.
It says this will help level the playing field by addressing the payload penalty that puts operators of cleaner vans at a commercial disadvantage compared with conventional vehicles.
Launching the consultation, transport minister Jesse Norman said: “We want to make it easier for businesses to opt for cleaner vehicles, and these proposals are designed to do just that.”
Road traffic estimates show there has been a rapid rise in HGV traffic over the past 20 years. In 2016 vans clocked up 49.1 billion miles – an increase of 23% when compared with 2006.
Ocado head of fleet Stuart Skingsley said: “At Ocado, we are keen to incorporate the latest low-emission technologies in our vehicle fleet, but we have been unable to do so due to the extra weight of the technology and category B licence restrictions.
“This vital derogation would allow us to field the latest alternatively fuelled vans, reducing harmful emissions and improving the UK’s air quality.”
Payload is paramount
Iveco alternative fuels director Martin Flach told Freightinthecity.com that customers are increasingly looking at low-emission vans. However, for those operating 3.5-tonne vehicles, payload remains paramount, and this has resulted in a lower take-up of alternatively fuelled vehicles.
“As a key alternative fuels vehicle manufacturer that believes in sustainable transport, Iveco has been campaigning on this for several years, so we’re delighted with the proposal that has been made,” he added.
“If the plan is accepted, we believe it would boost the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and improve air quality. The vehicles are available, we just need the government to ensure businesses are being given the opportunity to make the most of them.”
His view was echoed by Chris Jones, head of sales at electric vehicle manufacturer BD Auto (vehicle pictured), who told Freightinthecity.com he was pleased the UK was considering a proposal already in place across other European countries.
“In the UK, we are lagging behind our European counterparts, and if we are to address the issues of air quality in our cities then action must be taken to remove any barriers to adopting electric commercial vehicles.”
He added: “Many of our customers welcome the proposal and several have already lobbied the government on these reforms in order to place electric commercial vehicles on to their fleets.”
Phil Eaves, director of supply chain at organic food delivery specialist Farmdrop, said: “Under these proposed changes, more businesses will be able to satisfy the demand for home deliveries without dirtying the air.
“As the only online grocery company to operate an electric-only fleet, access to larger vehicles would be beneficial to Farmdrop as we can make more deliveries with fewer vehicles,” he added.
Feeling the weight
Gas supply firm Gasrec has also been lobbying for the government to allow extra weight to accommodate alternative fuel technology, and welcomes the proposal.
CEO Rob Wood said: “The driving licensing regime reduces the driver pool available for alternative-fuelled HGVs as they often marginally exceed the 3.5-tonne licence limit for category B licence holders. This places a cost and operational burden on the adoption of new technology despite the wide availability of suitable vehicles.
He added: “These vehicles have the potential to make a significant contribution to improving air quality in urban areas and we support the introduction of an appropriate licence derogation to remove this adoption hurdle.”
Peter Harris, director of sustainability, Europe, UPS, admitted that it had been “a challenge” to deploy alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles for the range and payload that it required in the N1 vehicle and B driver licence category, because “alternative fuel systems, such as electric, affect the overall vehicle weight more negatively compared to liquid fuels such as diesel”.
He added: “Allowing operators to maintain payload at the same level as with diesel will encourage the wider adoption of alternative fuel solutions.”
FTA head of licensing, policy and compliance James Firth said that members were being consulted on the proposals.
He said some would like to invest in alternatively fuelled vans, but as a heavier vehicle is needed to move the same payload as a traditional vehicle, it pushes them over the 3.5-tonne threshold and brings with it “a raft of regulation”.
“However, many have said that compared to the cost of the vehicles, the increased regulatory burdens are not the barrier to uptake.”
Firth added: “It is also argued that, if the case can be made that vehicles up to 4.25 tonnes are safe and do not require an increased regulatory framework, then what propels that vehicle should make no difference, and let’s have that deregulation applied to all vehicles.”
The FTA now plans to consult with all its members in the coming weeks.
Van leasing provider Arval questioned whether extra permissible weight would place more responsibility on van drivers and operators.
“The question facing fleets is whether they feel it is responsible to place drivers with standard car licences into a vehicle with a mass that has previously been seen as requiring specialised training, and into something that is 750kg heavier and twice as heavy as the largest cars,” said Arval LCV consultant Eddie Parker.
“Across the fleet sector, in recent years the discussion has tended to be about whether the driving standards for larger CVs should be applied to smaller vehicles. This proposal moves things in the opposite direction.”
In order to relax driver licensing rules, the UK would need to seek a temporary derogation from the EU Third Driving Licence Directive. Some EU states have already done this to allow category B licence holders to drive heavier vans.
The consultation on vehicle weights also proposes to remove a current exemption for electric vehicles to undergo MoT testing. It will run until 18 October.