Creating a greener London

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Support for lower emissions has never been higher, but Patrick Gallagher, CEO of CitySprint, thinks politicians in London need to show more leadership in order to bring electric vehicles into the mainstream

There is a lot of support in the logistics sector for reducing emissions. Many logistics professionals are attracted to the industry through a love of engineering and an appreciation of making systems more efficient, so the prospect of using technology to reduce our carbon footprint and the quality of air in urban areas appeals to many of us.

One way we can help to achieve this is to partner with car manufacturers to help test new electric vehicles for mass use – at CitySprint, for example, we are in talks with several car manufacturers about the possibility of trialing new vehicles. But technology and infrastructure continues to lag, and there is a growing sense of frustration that electric vehicles appropriate for mass commercial uptake are still some way off.

Charging points

There is a discrepancy between the expectations of the regulators trying to increase the use of electric vehicles and the technology and infrastructure that exists to support such vehicles. Boris Johnson, mayor of London, and Transport for London (TfL) has confirmed plans to have an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in place from September 2020, but it is unclear whether we are on track to facilitate this.

While commendable, TfL’s goal ignores the fact that the infrastructure to support this switch to electric vehicles does not exist. CitySprint alone makes more than 10,000 deliveries in London each day and there are 80,000 minicab drivers in the city, yet, in May we learned that London has only 1,400 charging points for electric vehicles. London’s knowledge economy relies on transporting people and packages quickly and efficiently, and TfL will need to secure investment to ensure that the city can cope with the influx of electric vehicles. Collaborating with the private sector can achieve this. For example, Chargemaster has offered to replace charging points for vehicles for free, in a bid to extend London’s network in this area.

Range anxiety

One central issue holding back the commercial use of electric vehicles is their limited range. This has improved in recent years; for example, Renault has announced that it will make a vehicle with a 200-mile range available by 2020. While this is still not an ideal distance for commercial deliveries, it is a vast improvement. But the market is not moving fast enough to deliver models that will meet the government’s emission expectations while being commercially viable both for manufacturers and for fleet owners.

On top of this, for too long the British government has sought to implement change through fines and penalties on emissions without fostering an alternative. The challenge is too great for an adversarial approach that pits fleet operators against elected officials – what is needed is an approach that brings all stakeholders to the table for a shared solution.

Necessary steps

We need national authorities to actively broker partnerships between fleet owners and car manufacturers to trial models, and local authorities to commit to a realistic investment in charging points. Local authorities could also consider offering electricity to charge vehicles for free, as many in Scotland and the west of England are doing.

Fleet operators need to show a willingness to phase electric vehicles into fleets. We can also collaborate with bodies like TfL and private taxi companies to ensure that the new infrastructure is capable of supporting all of London’s transport needs. Providing the infrastructure for mass uptake of electric vehicles among public transport and commercial fleets will in turn lead to consumers adopting the technology on a broader scale.

We are at an inflection point in electric vehicle use. There is massive popular support for the wholesale use of electric vehicles, but making this a reality will require a considerable commitment from national and local government, as well as from private sector manufacturers. The logistics industry will need to embrace and champion this change, but also demand a commitment from all stakeholders. If we collaborate across the public and private sector, then we can all share credit for reducing our carbon footprint while making our air cleaner to breath.

Patrick has more than 25 years’ experience in the same-day distribution industry. His wide range of experience includes managing a nationwide US courier business and more recently he led a successful management buyout in 2010. Since then, Patrick has been focused on expanding CitySprint’s market share and driving year-on-year growth at the company.

August 26, 2015

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