The government is to explore possible uses of digital systems to better manage queues of lorries outside south-coast ports – which, in the past year, have been reported to have regularly stretched back more than 20 miles.
Introduced at the start of 2022, the Goods Vehicle Movement Service now requires hauliers taking goods to an EU country to complete customs processes and other necessary declarations before crossing the UK border – principally via the ports and Channel Tunnel crossings in the Kent towns of Dover and Folkestone.
The additional pre-travel checks required as part of this process – which hauliers have claimed can take up to 15 minutes per vehicle – has seen queues of lorries reach as long as 20 miles down the M20 and A20 roads. Drivers have reported waiting up to 12 hours to get into ports, while the backlog has also caused significant disruption to local residents, holidaymakers, and anyone else travelling nearby.
The Department for Transport is shortly to launch an exploratory project in which it will be “seeking analysis of policy objectives, impact, and evidence-based proposals to apply digital technologies/IT to reduce inconvenience to hauliers and residents of Kent”.
The department is looking to work with a specialist supplier to help determine the feasibility of technology systems that could be used to manage queues. This will likely be achieved by implementing a management process which would enable lorries to wait in a virtual queue while remaining at “off-road sites in Kent” – or potentially even further away.
DfT believes that such a system could be used by drivers of heavy goods vehicles and their colleagues in administrative roles, as well as transport firms, truck stop operators, police, Kent County Council, and officials from National Highways and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency.
During an initial discovery phase, which is scheduled to commence next month, the department wishes to look at a range of potential challenges and considerations involved in the use of such a system, including “whether there would need to be a requirement to have some form of real time communication with hauliers, and how this could be done safely and at low cost”.
According to a recently published contract notice, other issues to be explored including how access to a digital platform could be controlled and secured, and the implications of “enforcing and incentivising” its use – particularly when many drivers currently evade current measures designed to alleviate congestion.
“This system needs to provide a seamless flow through to the ports and not create queues on the local or strategic road network,” the notice added. “[This] is crucial as the success of any new system for managing and directing trucks when there is disruption requires hauliers and Dover ports to conform to the new system, noting that there are currently very high levels of evasion with existing traffic-management systems.”
At the conclusion of the discovery project, the chosen supplier should deliver a report including “indicative costings, pros and cons… [and] delivery roadmap”.
Bids for the project are open until midnight on 17 January, with the winning firm set to be appointed to a contract lasting up to 10 weeks and worth between £80,000 and £100,000.
Work will take place largely remotely, albeit with regular visits to DfT offices, as well as “engagement with stakeholders in Kent”.
Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared