There have been various calls in recent years for something to be done about empty running of freight vehicles on Britain’s roads – most recently in the form of a controversial report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The report – UK Freight: In for the Long Haul? – claims that up to 30% of commercial vehicles run empty, and proposes a “multi-modal freight strategy” – incorporating road, rail and sea transportation – to address the issue. But is empty running really such a big problem … and if so, what is the best way to tackle it?

Running on Empty

The Department for Transport’s most recent figures for empty running (November 2015) stand at 28.6%, averaged across all rigid and articulated vehicles. While this does include some vehicles for which return loads simply wouldn’t be possible – such as petrol tankers – the real concern isn’t so much that empty running is suddenly skyrocketing; rather, the issue is that it shows no sign of reducing.

Despite various improvements in technology (in both vehicles and route-planning software) and industry practices, empty running figures have remained around the 28–29% mark since 2008.

Counting the Cost

The impact of this – financially and environmentally – is very real. A 2014 report by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight compared 2010’s relatively high empty running figures (29.2% for rigids, 28.2% for artics) with the lowest recorded results: 27.2% for rigids (2001) and 25.2% for artics (2003).

They concluded that if empty running volumes had remained at the lower levels, then in 2010 alone 471 million kilometres could have been avoided, saving 164 million litres of diesel, £160 million in fuel costs, and reducing CO2 emissions by 426,000 tonnes.

A Flexible Solution

Here at Waller Transport Services, we pioneered, and are therefore strong advocates of, the return loads model. By working with an extensive and widespread network of hauliers – and with meticulous coordination – it becomes possible to fully utilise both legs of a commercial transport route.

The key is flexibility, including combining part loads in a single vehicle where appropriate, and the benefits are clear.

Reducing empty running can have a direct impact on road traffic levels, fuel consumption and carbon emissions, and from a business perspective it can also deliver efficiencies and cost savings that can be passed on to the customer, resulting in a highly effective business model.

If you’d like to find out more about our return loads solutions, please get in touch with one of our road freight specialists today.