The future of transport is green but how can businesses get there?

Businesses must think more critically about how to reach their sustainable transport goals, but they need to be backed by government too, writes Patrick Gallagher, CEO of the CitySprint group.

At 00:01 on 8th April 2019, the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) — one of the world’s most radical anti-pollution schemes — was introduced across central London.

There’s no denying that this is a positive step in the right direction to reduce air pollution levels and carbon emissions across the capital. However, while 31% of London SMEs believe ULEZ will have a positive impact, 50% haven’t taken any steps to prepare for it. This is according to our 2018 Collaborate UK research, which explored the attitudes of SME decision-makers towards sustainability.

With ULEZ operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and costing non-compliant vehicles £12.50 in fees per calendar day, the financial implication for unprepared businesses — no matter their size — could be severe. As such, it is imperative that businesses get in gear to take steps to lower their emissions and, in doing so, mitigate the potential effects on their operations.

But how can they accomplish this? Here are three things to consider:

Think ahead

At present, the ULEZ zone covers only central London, but from October 2021 this will expand to the North and South Circular roads. And with more and more cities and councils enforcing emission-controlled zones, bringing in higher congestion charges and completely banning cars in some areas, it is all the more pressing that businesses think about what they can do, from now.

It’s important to consider that the implications of such initiatives will be different for all businesses — depending on whether their suppliers or customers are based within or around low-emission areas. As a first step, businesses must examine their supply chains and distribution networks to pinpoint which areas may be affected by existing, but also pending, changes. This could mean anything from making small alterations to final-mile deliveries in the affected areas, to having to rethink the location of their distribution centres or warehouses.

One thing is clear though: with 59% of businesses supporting the expansion of ULEZ and 58% thinking the importance of sustainable and eco-friendly practices will increase in the next year, the clock is ticking.

Focus on the fleet

While businesses need to examine things such as their supply chain and distribution networks, they must also take a more critical look at their fleet as a whole to help them reach their sustainability goals.

When deciding whether to convert their existing fleet to ultra-low emissions vehicles, it’s important to weigh up the benefits of each individual vehicle for their specific operations. For instance, with zero emissions, push bikes are handy for small and light deliveries in towns and cities, while cargo bikes, which we have invested heavily in, are another sustainable alternative to small vans in cities. With a load capacity up to 50kg and able to complete jobs up to 50% faster than vans during weekday peak times, they are ideal for metropolitan deliveries. Not only this, but each of our cargo bikes saves up to 100 tonnes of CO2 a year, making them a clear choice for businesses operating within the capital.

The government must also do more though…

At CitySprint, we believe that the introduction of government initiatives like the T-charge and ULEZ are necessary steps in combating congestion — and with 90% of businesses agreeing that incorporating sustainable and environmentally-friendly processes into their operations is important, we’re clearly not the only ones. However, equally if not more important, is the fact that 45% don’t think there is enough government funding to support green projects like the introduction of electric vehicles and 40% don’t think there is enough infrastructure like charging points and cycle parking.

We cannot deny that it’s encouraging to see the government and transport bodies increasingly showing their support to the sustainability cause. The opening of a £23m scrappage fund by the Mayor’s office to help charities and SMEs switch older, polluting vans for cleaner vehicles and the launch of TfL’s Bikes for Business scheme, which will support around 60 SMEs in the London Bridge area to switch to cargo bikes for last-mile deliveries, are two great steps in the right direction.

Ultimately, however, much more needs to be done to support businesses in their journey towards a green future. We need more investment in electric and hydrogen vehicle charging infrastructure (a current significant barrier to their wider adoption), the creation of more high-street garages equipped to repair eco-friendly vehicles and we also need the government to launch more policies with broader scopes to build collective responsibility for reducing pollution, instead of relying on businesses to shoulder the cost.