Giles Benbow, Head of Fleet Transition at Mer highlights how councils can do more to improve air quality in their urban environments by encouraging uptake of EV long wheelbase commercial vehicles.
The UK’s local authorities are on the front line in combatting carbon emissions and air pollution, and are already making inroads into taking petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles off our streets by installing EV charge points for public charging. Over 300 have declared a climate emergency and nearly two thirds of councils in England aim to be carbon neutral by 2030, some 20 years before the national target.
While the intention is there, many have not yet put it into action. Research from FairChange reveals that only 28% of local authorities have published their electric vehicle (EV) transition strategy, and a further 23% are in the process of devising their strategy. That leaves nearly half of local authorities facing a gap between their strategy and its delivery.
One of the biggest changes that local authorities can make is to encourage the EV transition for commercial vehicles, a major source of air pollution in our towns and cities. There are practical solutions that local authorities can put into play that will make a big difference.
Commercial vehicles – lorries, vans, emergency vehicles, municipal vehicles, taxis and passenger vehicles etc. – play a vital role in our everyday lives. Looking at delivery vehicles alone, a city with a population of half a million, about the size of Sheffield, Bristol or Glasgow, can expect to have around 25,000 tonnes of goods delivered by lorries each day, or around 1,000 tonnes every hour. And that’s just lorries. According to the Urban Transport Group, vans are the fastest growing sector of road traffic in Great Britain, up by 71% over the last 20 years. No one can have failed to notice the increase in courier and van traffic on our streets. In fact, they account for an estimated 55 billion miles travelled in the twelve months to September 2021 alone. Between them, commercial lorries and vans make a significant contribution to air pollution and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in our towns and cities.
Stepping up the number of public charge points should of course be a priority for every local authority, and by incorporating facilities for longer wheel-based vehicles they could make major inroads into their net zero targets. This is particularly true as people change their buying habits and rely more on the last-mile delivery options of couriers.
By integrating EV charge points for larger vehicles into their strategic plans, local authorities could make a big difference to the quality of life for their citizens. The problem is that our local authorities face budget constraints. Some are not yet taking advantage of the available grants, and may not be thinking strategically enough for the future.
There are several schemes that local authorities have introduced to try to address the challenge. These range from Clean Air Zones (CAZ) in city centres to zero emission fleets for their refuse collection vehicles and buses, for example. The predictable journeys and payloads of these vehicles makes them suitable for depot charging, but not every commercial vehicle is so fortunate.
“By integrating EV charge points for larger vehicles into their strategic plans, local authorities could make a big difference to the quality of life for their citizens”
Giles Benbow, Head of Fleet Transition at Mer UK – Public Charging
The fleets of courier vehicles, vans and trade vehicles used by builders, plumbers and other trades are unlikely to switch to EV until charging bays can accommodate them. Similarly, drivers of passenger vehicles like minibuses and taxis need charging to be more accessible to encourage EV take up. These are vehicles that drivers often take home and park on their drives or outside their houses overnight rather than charge at a depot. Even allowing for those who may have home EV charge points, many will rely on public charging facilities. The infrastructure required to charge vans is the same as a private car. They don’t need more powerful chargers or bigger plugs. The biggest impediment comes down to a lack of space. This has resulted in some chargers being installed out of reach of larger LCVs and vehicles with trailers in carparks with height restrictions to access or underground parking bays, where bays are too small, difficult to manoeuvre into or where the charge point doesn’t have a long enough cable.
In the main, the solution comes down to the location. Local authorities own huge swathes of land that could be used to charge larger vehicles. Many councils already have ideal locations in the Park & Ride facilities they provide to currently help reduce traffic in town and city centres. While EV charging stations are already available at several Park & Rides, simply extending the parking bay and lengthening the cables on the chargers can make them suitable for longer wheelbase vehicles. This would deliver value beyond commercial vehicles and make charging easier for municipal vehicles, passenger vehicles, minibuses and taxis.
There is a great deal of commitment among large companies to electrify their delivery fleets. The Post office, Tesco, DHL, DPD and many others have signed up to zero-emission, electrically powered trucks and vans. But other van and lorry drivers, especially owner-drivers, may need more help from local authorities to make the switch. By broadening their thinking and building for future demand local authorities could accelerate the EV transition for all vehicles and make a major contribution to air quality and net zero in their communities.
Accommodating the requirement for charging these vehicles makes good commercial sense for local authorities. It strengthens the business model for operating charging stations by contributing to sustainable local businesses as well as residents. In turn, this generates funds for reinvestment into maintenance and the ongoing expansion of the council’s charging infrastructure.
By working with Mer, an EV charging company backed by Statkraft, Europe’s largest renewable energy generator, forward-thinking local authorities can further reduce their overall carbon footprint and improve their environmental impact.
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