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Empty running on the rise

Charles Nockold

According to statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT)1, the percentage of UK trucks running empty has been on the rise in recent years. While figures dropped from 31% in 1984 to 26% percent in 2001, levels have increased since then reaching 29% in 2014. With green fingers already pointing at the industry’s contribution to CO2 levels, we really cannot afford to let empty running by trucks go unchecked.

Empty running is of course inescapable in many situations, and hard to avoid in others. Some specialised fleets are limited in backload or pickup opportunities when it comes to the types of load they can carry, e.g. refrigerated trucks designed for delivering chilled foods, or specialist chemical tankers. Likewise multi-drop loads will almost certainly have an empty leg as they return to their depot. For hauliers, new business can temporarily add one-way trips to a region beyond a fleet’s regular routes until regular backloads are established.

But with online freight exchanges, multi-client third party logistics providers (3PLs), and many different types of intelligent technology on the market, empty backhauls at the rate of 29% seems higher than it needs to be – particularly when lower levels have already been attained.

Empty running and even part loads equate to wasted money…and vast quantities of wasted fuel and CO2 emissions. According to the DfT, HGVs covered 16 billion miles on the GB road network in 2014 2 and 29% of those miles were empty trucks. Reducing this to the 2001 level of 26% would equate to industry savings of around 480 million miles, 270 million litres of fuel costing around £340 million and 720 million tonnes of CO2.

The Logistics Carbon Review 3 includes empty running in its Top 10 of operational and vehicle design carbon saving interventions but says that the reasons behind rising rates are unclear. Individuals contributing to the survey suggested that more efficient deployment of their core fleet on existing flows is the most effective way to reduce empty running.

Technology including routing and scheduling software together with telematics, is key to helping transport managers achieve efficiencies. Multi-site route optimisation software enables vehicles at multiple sites to be treated as a single integrated transport resource. This inter-working of multiple fleets generates route plans with efficient backloads, so that movements to and from different depots can be combined into optimised routes that reduce overall empty running. For example, by using Paragon’s software to automatically plan the interworking of separate fleets, ForFarmers was able to save £250,000 in just one region.

The technology also enables central daily planning of more complex operations, such as those involving warehouses or production sites with different products serving the same customer base, or combined primary and secondary distribution operations.

Empty running is a necessary feature of logistics and freight operations, but together with better planning and the right technology we can help to reduce it. With miles, fuel and CO2 savings as benefits, it’s worth everybody’s time to keep this on the list of priorities.

Paragon has a range of software tools that can improve your transport planning operation. Why not get in touch to find out more?

1 Table RFSO117, Percentage empty running and loading factors by type and weight of vehicle, Department for Transport
2 Road Traffic Estimates: Great Britain 2014, Statistical Release 21 May 2015, Department for Transport
3 Logistics Carbon Review, May 2013, Logistics Carbon Reduction Scheme (LCRS)


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