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Tuesday 14 November 2023

INSIGHTS: To Hull and back

Matthew Spry, Principal Transport Planner at Midlands Connect

It’s Christmas 1985, and almost 17 million people are watching one of Only Fools and Horses’ most popular television episodes; To Hull and Back. It tells the tale of a lorry being driven from South London to Hull with the main character, Del Boy, trapped in the back.

We often look at these older programmes and consider how much has changed over the years. However, having recently re-watched it, I was struck by how this journey, albeit a fictional one, could be recreated in a modern-day version pretty much as it was.

Considering how much the world has moved on, very little has changed. The vehicle itself. The driver is working long hours, believed to be taking a toll on his mental health, taking breaks at grubby cafés and then there’s the inefficiency of the trip, running empty on the outward leg of the journey.

But major change is on the horizon in one form or another. At Midlands Connect we are working out what the future holds for freight in our region

  • How will vehicles be powered and what energy infrastructure do we need to enable these vehicles to operate efficiently?
  • Where do we need to expand and improve driver facilities, and how?
  • How long will we rely on drivers and what will their role become in the operation of freight vehicles?
  • Where do we need start allocating land for freight-related activities to support these changes?

The answers to these questions will allow partners to plan for the future with confidence, thanks to the results of our in-depth research, using the best freight models available to us and tapping into industry expertise.

Understanding how technology will develop is particularly challenging and any advancement could have major impacts on the freight industry; from how customers purchase goods to the feasibility of fuel options for moving these goods.

Looking back to 1985 is stark reminder that, as a nation, we are trying to make monumental changes to an industry that, on the face of it, has changed very little.

In the next 40 years we have to decarbonise the industry, meaning new and considerably different vehicles across the sector, and a whole new refuelling network. The operators of freight vehicles will become more diverse and have better working conditions (even if this is in a more technology-based role).  Safety for those in and outside the vehicles must improve.

These changes go beyond the industry itself as we need to get the generators and attractors of freight in the right places to improve efficiency and reduce the impacts on people and the environment. And let’s not forget, we need to do all this while keeping the transport network running efficiently for other users.

  • Midlands Connect’s Freight Routemap was published last year and Issue 2 is coming soon.

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