COVID-19 has had a well-publicised effect on our travel habits in the UK, with the original national lockdown resulting in a period of almost empty roads, as millions of people were furloughed or began working from home. By late August, overall daily road traffic had returned almost to pre-lockdown levels, yet public transport usage remained low and growing reliance on home delivery meant that increases in road miles were being driven by vans and other commercial vehicles to a greater extent.
These recent changes give some indication of what we might expect to see in the longer term, but there remains a great deal of uncertainty over what the impact will be on the majority of UK business motorists in terms of their working arrangements, car usage patterns and choice of vehicles as we move towards 2021.
As part of a series of activity examining these issues, Fleet News ran a ‘Back to Business’ webinar, bringing together a group of fleet industry professionals to provide their respective takes on the future of fleet motoring in the wake of COVID-19. IAM RoadSmart’s CEO, Tony Greenidge, joined the panel to provide some essential insights into the road safety considerations faced by businesses.
On the growth of grey fleet
The use of private cars for business mileage continues to grow, and this growth looks set to accelerate with the next fleet renewal cycles as more employees work from home, or conduct meetings online instead of face-to-face. This highlights the need for a focus on employers’ duty of care for drivers who don’t have a company vehicle for work use. However, as Tony pointed out, “the increase in grey fleet doesn’t create a new challenge, it actually exaggerates a challenge that already exists. The responsibility of the employer remains the same regardless of how the vehicle is funded”.
Increased remote working and reduced company fleet numbers threaten to shift focus away from grey fleet even further as time goes on, raising concerns over how driver safety will be managed in future. Tony added “one of the advantages of a company car fleet is that the data is typically funnelled into one central point, so you’ve got real visibility and control… with a grey fleet, you lose that control when you don’t have access to that same level of data”.
The future of business mobility
A number of questions from webinar attendees centred on electric vehicles. There are clear environmental benefits from fleets adopting lower-emission vehicles or alternative mobility solutions, and greater home working may mean that the limited range of EVs becomes less of a crucial factor in vehicle choices. But in Tony’s view it is important that the whole picture is considered by individuals, employers and by those responsible for transport planning. Getting the best out of an EV can be a simple case of taking a short vehicle familiarisation course, but there are wider implications for road safety when it comes to mobility solutions as a whole.
“One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the improvement in air quality”, Tony said. “We support a mix of mobility that tries to get that delicate balance between the environment, cost, physical and mental wellbeing or both driver, cyclist, the pedestrian, and all trying to work together… the Highway Code is trying to evolve to try and cope with these various forms of new transport coming through”.
“As long as the new technologies that come out are compliant and don’t pose a risk to pedestrians or other road users then I think they are to be encouraged”, said Tony, “but it also requires local and central government I think, to be very integrated in terms of how they think about these things, the network and how we pull these things together, whereas if we operate in silos then we just get conflict”. New transport solutions may offer environmental benefits for all, as well as cost benefits for users, but for these solutions to be safe, they have to be subjected to testing and to be considered holistically, as part of the wider planning for the future of mobility.
Learnings for businesses
All businesses have had something to learn from the pandemic, and all will have to continue to adapt as the picture becomes clearer in the coming months. At IAM RoadSmart, we have continually adapted our training delivery to ensure that we can continue to service the needs of clients and individual drivers and riders in the most future-proof way.
Tony acknowledged: “We’ve been, historically an in-car training provider… huge investment has gone into enhancing our e-learning and online learning capability because we see that as very much the future of the market, playing a key role alongside the in-car”.
As ever, ensuring that any kind of training hits the mark, and that all other aspects of fleet and mobility are taken care of in the most effective way, they need the right attention and expertise, not only in the short term but also to manage ongoing developments as the impact on businesses becomes clearer. “My advice to fleets would be to make sure you get the right level of expertise in your business, to help to you make the decisions… this is a long-term game: when you think about the implications of electrification, legislation, tax, supply chain… it’s a very complex mix of things to manage. Having that expertise in your business and then giving that expert the opportunity to devise the right mix of fleet policy for your business I think is really really important”.