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ARUP fingers reverse modal shift as a source of poor air quality in UK ports

Although the ARUP report on air quality for the UK Major Ports Group has not yet been published, it is understood to have identified increasing container road freight at the expense of rail as a significant source of pollution

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ARUP fingers reverse modal shift as a source of poor air quality in UK ports

The report commissioned from Arup forms part of UKMPG’s contribution to the government’s Maritime 2050 strategy, in which the goal of achieving lower emissions from shipping and port activities is accorded top priority. Shipping Minister Nusrat Ghani opened the first meeting of the Clean Maritime Council in October.


Although UKMPG revealed in September that the report had been finalised and delivered to it for consideration by its members, the report has still not been published, so nothing is known for certain. Probably, however, it was submitted to the first meeting of the Clean Maritime Council.


Tim Morris, CEO of UKMPG, confirmed to worldcargonews online that the report has pointed to increasing container road freight as a significant source of air pollution in the three UKMPG member ports where measurements were taken – one of which is understood to be ABP Southampton, the UK’s second biggest deepsea container port. "It must surely be counterproductive to disincentivise modal shift at the same time as pushing for higher air quality standards," said Morris.


For fiscal 2017-18 (April-March), the Department for Transport (DfT) reduced the annual Mode Shift Revenue Support grant (MSRS) from around £19.7M to £15.7M (£4M or a 21% cut), and there was a further £0.550M reduction for 2018-19, so the latter total of around £15.17M was around 23% lower than in 2016-17, according to Philippa Edmunds, Manager, Freight on Rail/Campaign for Better Transport.


The DfT itself calculated that the £15.7M grant would result in 800,000 fewer truck journies in 2017-18, but the calculation for 2016-17 when the available total was £19.7M was 1M fewer truck journies, so effectively DfT was admitting that 200,000 journies would return to the road, a complete reversal of the MSRS policy goals.


As Edmunds explains, the MSRS scheme covers intermodal (containers, swap bodies and - to the limited extent that they can be carried in the UK - trailers) on the one hand, and bulk and waterways on the other. Bulk rail basically covers any kind of wagon traffic, including finished vehicle shipments - another highly significant area for ABP Southampton.


The amount of MSRS grant available depends partly on the origin and destination points (divided into regions) and the type of shipment. As far as worldcargonews online understands, on the intermodal side the biggest amount appears to be available for shipments of swap bodies (essentially between Mossend and Daventry). This is understandable, because the vast majority of shippers and 3PLs just don’t "think" intermodal rail when it comes to intra-UK shipments.


In any event, until the Arup report is published, it is impossible to quantify how much traffic at UKMPG ports has shifted from rail, and what types of traffic are involved. Also, we don’t know when the Arup measurements were taken, but given the time to collate and present such complex matters to one’s principals, it was probably before the huge disruptions to intermodal trucking and rail caused by Felixstowe’s botched new TOS roll-out in the summer, which would have had a major impact on pollution from trucks.


Another general point to be made is that forwarders and hauliers are constantly banging on about the "shortage of truck drivers," but that ought to be driving modal shift to rail irrespective of a shortfall in MSRS support. Is it the case, therefore, that the MSRS cuts would have resulted in an even bigger shift to road if there were not an acute problem with drivers? Probably there is no way to answer this question.


The biggest area of controversy about the Arup report remains UKMPG’s press release highlight that emissions from ships are not a major contributor to poor air quality in ports. However, since we now know that ABP Southampton was one of the ports surveyed, what about Southampton Cruise Terminal?


There are no shore power installations, which are hugely expensive to install, in the UK. As the major ports are privately-owned, they would have to pay for them themselves. This is a completely different situation to the Continent, where the port authorities are public and the business model is based on "public cost, but public benefit from better air quality." This topic was explored in the October 2018 edition of WorldCargo News.


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