Last reviewed 15 February 2012

John Robson looks at issues facing transport managers during the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and at ways to manage operations during that period.

Introduction

The periods before, during and for a short time after the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be extremely challenging for road freight transport operators. Major restrictions on parts of London’s road network and, at the same time, significantly increased volumes of traffic, will make it exceptionally difficult for operators to meet the demands of their customers. It is likely that journey times will be severely disrupted and, consequently, reliability of service will suffer. Deliveries and collections will take longer, service levels are likely to drop and, of course, these factors will have considerable cost implications for operators. In order to minimise the worst effects on their businesses, operators will have to manage their operations carefully.

Now is the time for them to start preparing in earnest, and this article takes into account some of the issues that need to be considered in order to develop workable plans, which will give operators the chance to perform at the highest possible levels during the Games period.

Planning and preparing

Operators need to familiarise themselves with the areas of London that will be extensively affected by the games. Operators should note that events are scheduled for venues across the whole of the capital, not just east London. Fortunately, Transport for London (TfL) has produced comprehensive maps and literature, giving detailed information of the Olympic Route Network (ORN) and the Paralympic Route Network (PRN). These represent the network of roads linking central London venues to the Olympic Park in east London and other venues located near to the River Thames (eg the North Greenwich Arena). Although most of the ORN and PRN will remain open to commercial vehicles, there will be some:

  • major lane closures, on occasions, for general traffic

  • side road closures

  • stopping and loading restrictions

  • turning bans

  • traffic management changes

  • alterations to parking arrangements in some areas.

Following the appraisal of the extent of the ORN/PRN, operators can then assess potential customer delivery/collection points along the routes. To help operators gauge how the restrictions relate to the location of their customers, TfL has published a list of postcodes that are affected by the temporary restrictions being put into place along the ORN/PRN routes. Matching the postcodes with the ORN/PRN maps (which have been produced in a series to identify days, times and locations where congestion “hotspots” are likely to occur) will enable operators to identify when, and where, disruption might occur. This can highlight the need to select alternative routes or the retiming, or even temporary postponement, of deliveries/collections.

To further assist operators and their journey planning, TfL is working on a Freight Journey Planner (FJP), which will be available at the end of March. The planner will be able to take account of the time-based variables at play, including delivery/access restrictions, congestion charging, ORN/PRN restrictions and lane closures, and loading/unloading restrictions, etc, and produce suggested routes designed to minimise delays for commercial vehicles.

Before the release of the FJP, however, operators should be talking to customers to ascertain what their potential delivery/collection requirements are likely to be. Hopefully, this information will be forthcoming, and it will enable operators to take the next step of assessing the resources that will be required to meet the likely demand.

Assessment of available resources

A useful place to start when trying to identify resource requirements is to produce a schedule of existing company assets and capabilities.

Number of vehicles, type, and payload capacity

Is the information available to determine the percentage of weight/volume capacity that is currently achieved? Is there scope to increase the utilisation levels of the vehicle? Will it be necessary to hire in vehicles (see Number and location of operating centres, below) for the Games period?

Number of drivers and the type of licences they possess

Can the number of hours currently worked be compared with the limits available under the drivers’ hours and working time regulations? Is there scope to increase the utilisation of drivers within the legal limits? Can a holiday rota be worked out to ensure fairness to staff without leaving the business critically short of drivers? Are there any other employees, not employed as drivers, who have commercial vehicle licences? Would they be willing to act as temporary drivers, if required? Is it feasible to hire agency workers, at this stage, for holiday cover? Bearing in mind that the ORN/PRN will be operational between 0600 and 2400 each day, the potential for night deliveries between 2400 and 0600 will increase. Is it possible to move drivers onto night shifts and or other shift patterns, for the duration of the Games period? Is it feasible to temporarily relocate drivers and vehicles from other depots to assist with increased demand during the Games?

Number and location of operating centres

Do these depots have any unused spare capacity (known as the “margin” on the licence) within the authorised fleet number, to take on extra vehicles? Are the parking arrangements at depots adequate to cope with hired or temporarily relocated vehicles within the margin? Do any of the depots have restrictions/conditions attached to them, under the terms of their operator licence, that prevent early morning starts or night work? Is it possible to apply to the Traffic Commissioner to temporarily lift these restrictions? Please note, If operators decide to apply make alterations to their operator’s licence (whether permanently or just for the period of the Games) it is necessary to submit an application for a major change to the licence (Form GV81). This should be submitted as early as possible to ensure that every opportunity is given to complete the application process within the required time. The normal length of time required to complete the process is nine weeks, so planning ahead is essential. As a result of the application for change, it may be necessary for operators to speak to their local authority and/or residents if objections and/or representations are likely to arise, and explain the reasons for the proposed change.

Depots

Do any of the depots have spare storage capacity, and suitable handling equipment, that could be used to hold extra goods that can be used as buffer stocks for customers?

Vehicle maintenance

What vehicle maintenance activities are scheduled to take place during the Games period? Is it possible to bring forward safety inspections/annual tests and routine servicing in order to minimise vehicle downtime when the Games are on? Such changes should not, of course, go against the terms of the operator licence.

Routeing and scheduling

If routeing and scheduling systems are used to plan vehicle movements, are they capable of being updated with details of forthcoming traffic restrictions as imposed by TfL? Are the information, technology and communication systems, including in-cab messaging, capable of handling the increased flow of data that is likely to occur during the Games period?

Subcontractors

How many subcontractors are used on a regular basis, and what type of vehicles do they supply? Will they commit to provide the business with a set number of vehicles during the Games? Will they be seeking enhancement on charges during this period?

Customer liaison

Close liaison between operators and customers, on the run up to and during the Games, is going to be extremely important. It is highly likely that it will be necessary to make rearrangements for collections and deliveries. It may require both parties to consider nighttime deliveries and collections in order to overcome the difficulties they are likely to encounter during the day.

Operators will hope for vehicles to be turned around more quickly than normal by their clients. Time will be of the essence and unnecessary delays spent waiting at customers’ premises will make life difficult for drivers and operators alike.

It may be possible for customers to increase their stock-holding capacity for the duration of both the Olympics and Paralympics. This would require an increased delivery size on behalf of the freight operator, and so careful assessment will be necessary to ascertain if increases are possible.

Certainly, it may be necessary to develop emergency collection/delivery plans for urgent orders. Close liaison between the parties will be necessary to ensure that customer requirements can be met. Operators must endeavour to get the message across to customers as to the realistic levels of service that will be achieved during the Games period.

Furthermore, it may be necessary for operators to be prepared to negotiate with clients over the implementation of collection/delivery surcharges, in order to cover increased costs. When lines of communication with customers have been established it will be important for operators to keep them open, as it is likely that there will be much to discuss during the Games period.

From the foregoing, it can be seen that good customer liaison will be essential if operators are to achieve acceptable levels of customer service during the Games period.

Driver communication

Operators also have a responsibility to communicate with drivers to ensure they are aware of their duties and that they are mindful of their responsibilities. For example, operators must ensure that drivers fully understand the hours’ rules (EU and Working Time) and abide by them, even under trying circumstances. To emphasise the point, one Traffic Commissioner has stated that drivers must “adhere to driver hours’ legislation and tachograph regulations during the period of the Games”. Therefore, employers must ensure that drivers fully understand these rules, as there will be no let-offs from the enforcement authorities.

Employers must also ensure that drivers fully understand the operation of the ORN/PRN, and how the alterations made to the London road network may affect drivers’ ability to perform their duties and stay within the law.

Conclusion

Although there are five months to go before the Games begin, it is crucial for road freight operators to start planning soon, to enable them to meet with the challenging operating environment that lies ahead. It is also essential to keep up-to-date with information released by TfL and VOSA, and pass relevant details on to customers and drivers. Furthermore, operators must remember the stark warning given by Sarah Bell, the Lead Traffic Commissioner for Olympic Delivery, when she advised operators of their responsibilities for continued compliance with regard to:

  • driver hours’ legislation and tachograph regulations

  • vehicle maintenance and MOT schedules

  • vehicle checks and the prevention of PG9s

  • continuous and effective responsibility by Transport Managers.

For further information, go to the topic on Preparing for the Olympic Games in Goods Vehicle Operations.