What new DfT data says about impact of cabotage in the UK

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The UK Government is currently consulting with businesses on the question of whether to continue its controversial cabotage relaxation, which allows foreign hauliers to conduct unlimited domestic transportations in Britain over a 14-day period. As part of the the consultation, the Department for Transport has released a fascinating document with data on how the existing cabotage relaxation has impacted transport movements, road safety and driver wages in the UK.

What new DfT data says about impact of cabotage in the UK

The consultation, which lasts until March 23rd, will help the government decide whether the cabotage relaxation will finish at the end of April as planned, be extended, or kept in reserve as a precaution ahead of the Christmas peak. The government says that the latter would “require evidence that these additional rights would provide significant benefits in the busy autumn period”.

The consultation comes after it emerged last month that the government had not ruled out extending the relaxation past its April 30th expiration date. In the same month, the government also listed the relaxation of drivers’ hours rules and cabotage limits as a Brexit benefit.

In response to the publication of the consultation, the RHA has urgently called on the haulage sector to make their views on the matter heard. Submissions can be made here.

Alongside the government’s announcement of the consolation came the publication of its consultation document.

Here you’ll find a brief summary and analysis of the data.

How much is the cabotage relaxation being used?

Key takeaways from the consultation document:

  • As of 10 February 2022, a Uk Government survey had found that about 8% of the respondents were both aware of the cabotage extension and had taken advantage of it.
  • Of those who had utilised the cabotage relaxation in the UK, about 50% reported performing on average more than 2 cabotage movements per trip to the UK (i.e. movements that would not have been allowed before the cabotage extension).
  • Mobile phone data shows that the aggregated amount of cabotage movements per foreign haulier within the UK has only risen very slightly from 1.2 pre-relaxation to about 1.3 after the relaxation.

Observations:

As the consultation document itself admits, there was concern among British hauliers that the cabotage relaxation could result in a loss of business due to cheaper, foreign competitors undercutting them. Such criticism of the decision was very apparent at the time, although there were some experts who believed the change would have a very limited effect.

One British haulier who was shocked by the cabotage decision was Broughton Transport Solutions Ltd, who posted the following reaction to the news on Facebook:

“Today the government’s decision to extend cabotage rights to foreign hauliers has shocked me. For weeks we have heard Boris Johnson talking about getting wages up, why then allow foreign vehicles with some drivers earning in a month what out drivers earn in 1-2 weeks come and take over our roads. Foreign vehicles don’t have to abide by the same road safety laws as us, the state of some of the vehicles on our roads is atrocious and completely unsafe, today our government has put road users lives at risk. I suggest this has been done following pressure from business leaders who are trying to keep their costs of transport down. These vehicles will run round the country with drivers not contributing national insurance, no road tolls, not paying fuel duty and not paying parking in services. They will not contribute anything to the UK economy.”

On the other hand, among those who subscribed to the latter school of thought was Paul Uglow, Commercial Manager at Meachers Logistics. In autumn of last year, he told told Trans.INFO that in his view, the unlimited cabotage plan would “have zero effect”.

Mr Uglow explained that most international operators do not do UK domestic work as well – especially since Brexit. As he sees it, EU hauliers will snub the opportunity to do cabotage in Britain as it does not make operational sense from their perspective:

“The really major point though is that the revenue the hauliers are getting from EU to UK is now so high it pays for the round trip, many hauliers don’t wish to get back loads to EU as it wastes time on them managing their base EU to UK volumes. With this in mind few international hauliers will want to lose time messing about with cheaper UK backloads as their fuel is already paid for and could make them miss already contracted loads.”

Europa Worldwide Group CEO Andrew Baxter was another who spoke to Trans.INFO about the cabotage relaxation. In his opinion, it was a sensible decision:

“I thought under the circumstances, it was a very sensible decision. We can’t, as an industry, have it every which way. If someone is saying that it’s a nightmare, we can’t get any drivers, peak is not going to happen, goods are not going to be on the shelves, fuel stations will go without fuel, and so on. And then the government says that for a limited period we’re going to relax cabotage regulations in order to soften those issues, they can’t be jumping up and down and saying, “that’s crazy, why would the government do that?”

According the UK Government data in the consultation document listed above, the later hypothesis turned out to be correct. Only 8% of the foreign hauliers surveyed were aware of the cabotage relaxation and chose to take advantage of it, while mobile phone data suggested a minute 0.1% increase in cabotage movements.

One could therefore argue that the figures show the cabotage relaxation is simply not necessary. On the other hand, others might take the view that it isn’t doing any harm and can stay.

The data showing the limited impact of the relaxation is interesting given that some major hauliers and haulage associations did make admissions about the change allowing for extra work. Back in November, Girteka Logistics told Trans.INFO that its UK workload had “definitely increased” after the cabotage relaxation. Moreover, Augustin Hagiu, President of Romania’s FORT haulage association, told Trans.INFO last month that “the United Kingdom remains a profitable area for Romanian carriers”. Regarding the possibility of a cabotage extension, he added “this interest is confirmed”.

What has the impact been on road safety?

Key takeaways from the consultation document:

  • Figures of crash rates indicated that, per mile travelled, foreign HGVs were involved in fewer or a similar rate of serious accidents, reflecting the fact they drive on less dangerous roads.
  • Based on targeted checks, the DVSA found similar rates of roadworthiness defects for GB and non-GB HGVs. However, there were higher rates of serious defects for non-GB HGVs and higher rates for non-GB HGVs of traffic offences (for example drivers’ hours infringements).
  • Overall non-UK, operated international and cabotage transport is undertaken with comparable risks to UK operated national transports.
  • DVSA data shows that the number of HGV driving offences recorded in the period since cabotage relaxation (late October 2021 to late January 2022) has increased marginally (5% per reporting date) when compared to a baseline over the same
    period in 2019/20 (prior to Brexit and Covid restrictions taking place).
  • In terms of enforcement, over the same time period, the average number of offences issued to non-UK HGV drivers per encounter was 0.42 (42%) in 2019/20, and 0.44 (44%) in 2021/22. The slight increase in enforcement may account for some of the increase in offences issued. The evidence suggests that only a small proportion perform cabotage.
  • DVSA data shows a 13% increase in the average amount of serious offences issued to non-UK drivers in 2021/22 per reporting date, when compared to the same time period in 2019/21. The higher rate of enforcement may account for some of the increase in serious offences issued. As before, not all non-UK drivers captured will be performing cabotage trips.

Observations:

Another criticism of the cabotage relaxation concerned road safety. The Road Haulage Association, as well as the Unite Trade Union, suggested that a number of foreign hauliers operate faulty trucks and may have fatigued drivers who are encouraged to flout drivers’ hours rules.

The UK Government data in the consultation document nonetheless largely debunks this claim. In the opinion of the Department for Transport, overall “non-UK, operated international and cabotage transport is undertaken with comparable risks to UK operated national transports.” It bases this claim on the data referred to above, which indicates that the number of truck defects and road transport violations recorded since the relaxation came into effect is very minor.

There are, however, some interesting observations in the aforementioned figures. According to the Department for Transport, foreign HGVs have been involved in fewer accidents since the cabotage relaxation as they “drive on less dangerous roads”. Therefore, it seems that hauliers who may have chosen more dangerous, alternative routes so as to avoid detection for cabotage violations, are no longer doing so now due to the fact they can do more cabotage legally.

There has also been a 13% decline in offences issued since the relaxation came into force, which could be attributed to the relaxed drivers’ hours and cabotage rules. The number of cabotage related offences issued per non-UK driver were (0.15%) in the 2019/20 period, and 0.14% in 2021/22.

Has the cabotage relaxation halted driver wage growth and reduced haulage rates?

Key takeaways from the consultation document:

  • There has been no intelligence received by the Department to suggest there are any significant reductions in haulage rates or driver pay since the introduction of the additional cabotage rights.
  • There is also no indication that there has been insufficient work for, or threats to the viability of UK-based operators, attributable to the cabotage rights.

As the two points above state, the government clearly believes the cabotage relaxation has had no negative impact on driver wages or road transport rates.


Photo: Richard Says / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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