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Environmental impact of food and drinks transport

On March 8th the managers and drivers of more than 7,500 goods vehicles distributing food and drink for British consumers, will be carefully monitoring the performance of their trucks. Operators of more than 130 commercial fleets, including most of Britain's major supermarkets and food and drinks manufacturers, are participating in an environmental impact survey for the Department for Transport (DfT).

The results of the Key Performance Indicators Survey, being conducted for the DfT by SCALA Consulting, will give the most comprehensive information showing how efficiently the vehicles are operating. It will clearly show how full the vehicles are; how many miles they run empty; and the effect on their operations of traffic and loading or unloading delays. They will also show how much produce is moved and how far, and how much fuel is used, and how much CO2 is released in the process.

The survey is the largest of its kind ever undertaken in the UK, and probably worldwide. It will provide a real measure of the effectiveness of the use of goods vehicles on our roads in transporting food and drink from manufacturers, through distribution centres and so to the final retailer before it reaches the consumer.

Starting at midnight on Wednesday March 7th, and for the next 24 hours, the activities of over 7,500 vehicles will be carefully monitored by their operators to identify the information mentioned above. They will record how much is carried on each leg of each journey, how long the journeys are, what delays were incurred and how well the vehicles were utilised during the 24 hour period. Arrangements have been made to accommodate vehicles that work around the clock, and those that deliver and collect on the same journey.

The information gathered will be forwarded to SCALA Logistics Consulting, who will carry out the analysis and produce Key Performance Indicators for the two sectors covering vehicle fill, time utilisation, empty running, fuel consumption, and deviation or delays from schedule. The sheer scale of the Survey, and the work put into preparation for the big day, will ensure that results are reliable. Although individual sets of data will always remain confidential, vehicle operators throughout the industry will be able to use the Survey results to understand how they might be able to improve their own operation.

These are all key measures for the operators of vehicles, who in a competitive world need to use them as efficiently as possible. They are also important for other road users, since efficiency of use helps to minimise vehicle numbers and congestion, and effective use of vehicles minimises emissions, which benefits everyone.

The Survey is the latest of a series of such studies carried out by the Department since 1996, and will be followed by another in 2009, when there will a further opportunity to identify trends in the way in which vehicles support the food and drinks sectors.

It presents a unique opportunity for businesses to benchmark their own operations against agreed, nationally recognised, criteria that have been in place since 1998. There will be other measures that have not been quantified previously. These include the effect of planning constraints and offloading difficulties in urban areas.

All participating companies will receive a report that will show how efficiently their vehicles are being used compared to the fleets in the survey. This will identify real opportunities to maximise their operational efficiency. If their fuel consumption is worse than others, it can be investigated and improved – by revised specification of vehicles or perhaps driver training.

An overall report will be published by the Department. This will produce results for the whole survey, covering all fleets, and it will be available later this year through the Department's Freight Best Practice Programme. This will give the whole transport industry, not just those operating in food and drink, the opportunity to understand what is being achieved. It will also provide the Department with an overview of the way that vehicle efficiency in England and Wales is changing, and help them to understand how the situation may develop in the future.


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