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Damian James' Blog: May

Date: 29 May 2007

Damian James

We had our regional ACFO meeting last week which was at Thatcham in Berkshire. This was my first visit and we were treated to an excellent presentation from the chief executive and communications director. This was followed by a tour of the facilities which gave us an insight into the work that Thatcham do.

29 May 2007: Joined up thinking on c-charging

You will have by now seen the press coverage on the publication of a draft bill for the introduction of road pricing in the UK. This gives MP's the opportunity to debate the proposals which would enable local Councils in England to trial road charging schemes.

There are currently 10 local authorities that have expressed an interest in trailing some type of congestion reduction scheme. These may include, among others, dual occupancy lanes, more bus lanes or congestion charging.

When I spoke at the ICFM conference last year I campaigned for some joined up thinking on black boxes. Well it appears that some of my concerns have been allayed. One of the key points of the draft bill discusses the need for any scheme to fit in with those run elsewhere.

One of the first areas to announce further details of their plan is Greater Manchester. They are hoping to secure a chunk of money from the transport innovation fund which has been set up by the Government to allow trials to take place. They are talking about a charge within the M60 of £2 to enter the outer zone and a £1 to access the centre of Manchester at peak times. In addition there is talk of a further £1 to leave either of the zones.

While it is still relatively early days it seems the building blocks are soon to be in place for a number of pay as you go areas.

What interests me is how technology will enable these zones to work.

There was a report published by Transport for London in October 2006 which states that Global Positioning Systems On Board Units (GPS - OBU), black boxes to you and me, are not accurate enough yet for distance based charging. I fully expect that to change when Galileo (A European Global Navigation System which I will blog about soon) finally gets off the ground! Lets hope that we will not have a network of inefficient systems carrying out the enforcement similar to one that is out there at the moment.

By the way, if you read my blog last week about the dual life of the EU Parliament you will be pleased to know that they read BusinessCar as well. They have just announced that they will be having extra sessions at Brussels giving weight to the argument for having just one location.

I didn't realise that I was reaching such a wide audience!

24 May 2007: The double life of the European Parliament

ntThe environment is dominating the press this year and after attending the ACFO conference and AGM last week and hearing some interesting presentations about the impact of fleet on the environment I thought I would jump on the bandwagon.

I recently had a report sent to me from the Greens / European Free Alliance that looked at the environmental costs of transport and energy of the European parliament. The thing that I didn't really appreciate was that the parliament has two seats, one in Brussels and the other in Strasburg. When Strasburg is being used instead of Brussels 1200 people have to make the journey between the two locations, which includes up to 400 personal assistants and around 120 journalists. In addition around 15 lorries are used to transport relevant documentation once a month. The staff would then claim relevant expenses from their employees as well as adding to the environmental impact.

Anyway, without boring you too much the report concluded that the total CO2 emissions related to travel from Brussels to Strasburg is around 6200 tonnes per annum. If you factor in other things that contribute to CO2 such as energy production the total is nearer 19,000 tonnes per annum.

The European Commission recently set targets for new vehicles to emit an average of 130g/km of CO2 across the manufacturers range by 2012 (and down to 120g/km if you include other additional measures such as maximum tyre rolling resistance) so it's good to see that we have the shining example of the European Parliament to follow!!!

11 May 2007: Avoiding whiplash

We had our regional ACFO meeting last week which was at Thatcham in Berkshire. This was my first visit and we were treated to an excellent presentation from the chief executive and communications director. This was followed by a tour of the facilities which gave us an insight into the work that Thatcham do.

One of the things that I found most interesting was the whiplash testing that they do on vehicle seats. According to Thatcham there are 250,000 whiplash injuries suffered every year with 2500 of these permanent in some form or another.

So, having spent £1m on a test rig (or to give it its full name - the hyper G reverse acceleration sled) car seats are strapped on with a crash test dummy and hit up the backside. The dummy had a very complicated neck and spine with individual vertebrae sandwiched with sensors to replicate a human. The data lead coming off it was about the size of my wrist so you can imagine how much information it is collecting. This testing and the subsequent publication (naming and shaming) of the results have seen a dramatic increase in seats now being rated as acceptable or good.

Alongside most of the manufacturers working hard at improving occupant safety there must also be an equivalent effort by drivers and their passengers. Head rests must always be adjusted to the correct position for all of this investment and technology to have a benefit in the event of a rear end shunt.

Anyway if you ever need a slightly used car seat Thatcham have a very large room full of them.

On a related topic Thatcham has a fleet briefing day which looks very interesting on the 20 June so if you want to find out about that and also what else they do, visit Thatcham's website.

8 May 2007: Vehicle tracking is coming (and so is road charging)

Let me put some detail behind that rather bold headline. I'm sure that it won't surprise many of you to know that a lot of the current thinking about automotive safety technology is being driven by European policy.

This is being led by an organisation called e-safety which is located in Brussels. They are in charge of trying to reduce the 40,000 vehicle related deaths that occur every year on the roads in Europe.

One of their programmes is called e-call (a form of which is already being used by some manufacturers) a Europe wide in-vehicle emergency system which when activated will give precise location details and allow a quicker response from emergency teams due to the exact location of the vehicle being known. This system would of course work using GPS and would need a 'black box' in your vehicle.

This system then could be the perfect tool for introducing road charging into the UK. The box would be installed at factory thereby avoiding any nasty aftermarket fitment charges. The system will already know where you are (for e-call purposes) and therefore it could charge you accordingly and it could be 'sold' to UK drivers as having safety benefits.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) outlines the objectives and timing of e-call and is open for signing by the main stakeholders. Currently seven EU and three non EU states have signed. In reference to the UK signing the MoU the discussions are said to be "advanced".

So what is the likely implementation date around this technologically advanced system?



Actually it's likely to be about 2010 (its already slipped one year from 2009). This combined with Galileo (another topic for another time) will change the way we interact with our vehicles and how they interact with us.

Scary stuff? - You haven't seen anything yet.