Another Londoner was killed last week after being subject to brutal, callous and unnecessary violence. Peter McGreal is the 9th cyclist to have been fatally injured by an HGV on the capital’s streets this year. Also last week, an as yet unnamed cyclist was dragged under a tipper truck in the City.
Boris Johnson tells us that goods vehicles are the “lifeblood” of London. A few fatalities here and there are unavoidable. Right?
Who is killed?
Overwhelmingly, the people killed by HGVs are people walking and on bikes. Data split by severity of casualty from the most recent year available (2008) shows the extent to which this is the case:
Source: London Freight Data Report 2010 (p31).
Whatcha gonna do?
No one really likes lorries. They kill and maim dozens of people in London each year. They contribute significantly to both particulate and carbon emissions. They’re noisy and not exactly pretty: lorries don’t make our streets pleasant places to be.
But they’re just a fact of life, aren’t they? Construction, deliveries, waste management – these are all integral to the running of a city.
Much like the occasional case of gonorrhoea for the gallivanting Lothario, HGVs are just the price of doing business.
What do the numbers say?
Like our promiscuous Prince Charming, if we’re going to engage in risky activity, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the probability that someone ends up in pain.
Currently, around a third of all HGV journeys in London are made by empty vehicles (p61).
The London figure is higher than the UK average, 28% (DfT, Section 1, Table 1.12). And the UK average figure is not low at the moment – in fact, the number of empty running HGVs has gone up since 2001 (p43).
Can it get lower?
The answer is a definitive yes. In Germany, the Maut Road User charging system has resulted in empty running lorries being reduced to about 19%, while our numbers have steadily risen:
The Swiss road charging system has produced similar trends.
Are longer lorries the answer?
Roads Minister Mike Penning is currently arguing that longer lorries are the answer to our HGV woes, as they would require fewer journeys to be made. But actually, the highest empty running figures are with the heaviest vehicles: in London, 39% of goods vehicles weighing over 25 tonnes are empty (p61).
So what is the answer?
Driving empty lorries through London costs the city’s residents and visitors dearly. It needs to cost haulage companies.
Current incentives are insufficient for hauliers to efficiently use their fleets – there are massive logistics companies out desperate to get their hands (and RFID tags) on London’s lorries. But companies aren’t using them, because logistics costs money.
There are all sorts of solutions to this – increasing vehicle taxation for weight, carbon usage, emissions, or vehicles running below a certain capacity.
I won’t pretend to be able to weigh up the merits of each of these options. The point is, they make driving HGVs expensive enough that people think carefully about their journeys – apparently this is needed, because dead people doesn’t seem to be enough.
Until running empty vehicles becomes a lot more expensive, HGVs are going to continue to unnecessarily blight our cities, and to kill their inhabitants.