Fuelling the future: a look at the filling sites of tomorrow

Filling stations are rarely the kind of place we look forward to going: after all, buying fuel is what’s known as a ‘distress purchase’ – something that we have to buy, rather than something we want to buy.

Drivers are therefore a captive market, so many filling stations have, arguably, not put as much effort into wooing them as other retailers have in recent decades. Thankfully, that is changing, as a new wave in fuel retailing starts to spread across the UK. A range of new initiatives and an emphasis on offering more services to drivers is making those necessary stops more pleasant.

The first challenge that filling stations are overcoming is the shift to alternative energy sources. Although electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) still constitute a relatively small proportion of the new car market – figures from 2016 show that despite a 40.3% increase year-on-year, alternatively fuel vehicles (EVs and PHEVs) were only 2.8% of total new car sales – over the next couple of decades, they will play a much larger part in the UK’s driving landscape.

The question is where these EVs will be charged. Currently, estimates suggest that anything between 70% and 90% of EVs are charged at drivers’ homes. Government funding – in the form of Workplace Charging Scheme and the 100% First-Year Allowance for chargepoints – is also helping fleets adopting EVs to set up charging stations at corporate locations.

However, public charging will continue to be an important element of the EV charging mix. Many of these will be at shopping centres, retail parks and other leisure locations, but filling stations will also be installing rapid chargers over the next few years. It’s a trend that is already in evidence elsewhere in the world.

“There are areas where it’s clear that there is a growing demand for battery electric cars, particularly in California and parts of Holland, so we’re working on developing supercharging technology, too,” István Kapitány, executive vice-president of retail at Shell told the The Daily Telegraph last year.

Some filling stations will link up with existing energy suppliers, and new energy brands will also emerge. Kapitány also expects the stations themselves to invest in renewable energy to sell on to customers. Shell, for example, is currently trialling solar panel canopies in China, which will generate all the energy needs of a filling station.

It’s not only electricity, either: fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), running on hydrogen, will also be using filling stations. This is already starting in Germany, where Shell and Daimler are partnering to establish a hydrogen infrastructure for powering existing FCVs. There are eight sites at the moment, with plans for 400 locations by 2023.

The other change for future filling stations is the type of service they provide to customers.

Filling stations have already changed considerably, as Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, told us: “Filling stations have evolved from a kiosk offering some motoring accessories, to confectionary, tobacco and news (CTN), to the convenience store.

“And now the next wave is coming through, which includes fast food. Many filling stations now have good-quality coffee, burger outlets, Greggs, Subway – this is the next move.

“And of course, if people are sitting to eat, there will need to be free Wi-Fi. So people will be able to come in, have something to eat, have their car washed, catch up with email and, 30 minutes later, their electric car is recharged.”

Filling stations will therefore become multi-use destinations, perhaps more closely integrated with retail parks, or cinemas and entertainment locations. Customers will be offered a choice of activities, of which filling or recharging a car is just one.

And as Kapitány points out, filling stations will need to attract customers, even when they don’t need to buy fuel.

“We are seeing a huge number of people coming to service stations who are not filling up their cars. They are coming in to buy breakfast, to get a cup of coffee, to get their car washed. Their need for convenience retail is more frequent than their car’s need for fuel.”

This will be even more true when autonomous cars start to hit our roads in the next decade. “Autonomous cars do not mean, of course, that humans are not there,” Kapitány said.

“The cars are still taking people from A to B, so it’s very important that service stations are suitable for those type of cars – but also remain relevant for the people who are sitting in them.”

As this bright new future of driverless cars emerges, we can expect to see filling stations change, too. Clean, architecturally interesting, landscaped stopping places with a variety of fuelling options and a range of services will be what customers demand.

Who knows: drivers might even look forward to visiting them.
Source: Fluid Thinking  – Shell

All you need to know about… vehicle platooning

As all fleet drivers and managers know, congestion is one of the biggest problems that road users face today. Traffic jams are expensive, with delays costing companies money in lost time and fuel wasted by vehicles idling on the road.

However, new technology is about to offer us a solution, in the form of vehicle platooning.

The basics

Platooning enables vehicles equipped with the latest driver support and connectivity systems to closely follow one another, communicating with each other about their relative movement.

So, for example, a series of trucks would travel together in a line on a motorway.  There’s some debate as to how many trucks is realistic, with Volvo working on the basis of two or three, but Mercedes-Benz suggesting that up to 10 would be possible.

The lead truck would ‘talk’ to those behind, using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology to communicate pictures from a forward-facing camera to show the traffic ahead and wirelessly networking with the other vehicles, so its movements are copied instantaneously.

Safer

What this means, in effect, is that trucks can follow each other safely, but at shorter distances, using up less space on the road. So for example, Mercedes-Benz trucks are now being fitted with a system called Highway Pilot Connect, which enable trucks to follow each other just 15m apart, compared to the recommended 53m stopping distance at 50mph. This is because when the lead truck brakes, that information is communicated to the following vehicles in 0.1 seconds.

A human, on seeing the brake lights of a vehicle ahead, would take at least 1.4 seconds to react. A vehicle in a platoon travelling at 50mph will therefore travel just 2.2m before braking if an incident occurs: the distance would be around 30m for a human driver.

More fuel efficient

While safety is assured with platooning technology, the other major benefit is fuel efficiency. Because of the reduced distance between vehicles, air resistance is lowered, so platooning trucks can reduce their fuel consumption – and, as a result, harmful CO2 emissions – by estimates that range from 5% to 20%. The benefits to fleets, for whom fuel is a major element of running costs, is obvious.

But it’s not just fleets that benefit from this innovation. For one thing, if platooning vehicles can also safely reduce the space between them, this will free up more road space for other road users – and it also facilitates better traffic flow, reducing tailbacks in high-volume situations.

The hurdles to platooning

It’s not just trucks that can join a platoon. An EU-funded project to discover the feasibility and benefits of platooning – called Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE), running from 2009 to 2012 – involved two Volvo trucks followed by three cars, all of which were connected via wireless technology.

But before platooning can become a fixture on our motorways there are a few hurdles to overcome.

The first is the need for the separate vehicle manufacturers to work together to establish common standards, so that their trucks and cars can talk to one another.

The good news is that Erik Jonnaert, secretary general of the ACEA – the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association – has suggested that this should be possible by 2023.

He said: “The technology for platooning with trucks of the same brand is already available today. But clearly customers will need to be able to platoon with trucks of different brands, so our next objective is to introduce multi-brand platooning.”

Over the next four years, manufacturers are aiming to embark on further testing, recruiting logistics operators to examine how platoons operate in real-life situations and develop business cases. At the same time, an EU-funded research project will develop multi-brand platooning technology and standardise communication protocols, so trucks with different badges on their grilles can ‘speak’ to one another.

The other major issue to surmount is that there are a host of legislative and regulatory concerns to overcome.

The Amsterdam Declaration, signed by EU members in April 2016, lays down a series of agreements on the necessary steps for the development of self-driving technology in the EU.

That could take some time, however. The first step has been taken: the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic was amended in 2016, which means that automated driving technologies that transfer driving tasks to the vehicle are now explicitly allowed in traffic, provided that these technologies conform with United Nations vehicle regulations, or can be overridden or switched off by the driver.

But that’s just the start. European nations also need to create a supportive regulatory framework before platooning is possible across the continent.

“Policymakers… will need to develop new rules, make changes to existing legislation, and harmonise international and EU rules,” the ACEA’s Jonnaert said, adding that governments will also need to offer political support, including incentives such as toll and tax reductions, and CO2 bonuses.

The final obstacle is the acceptance of platooning by other road users: a series of large, imposing trucks, all in a line on a motorway, might feel intimidating to many drivers. They will eventually get used to this innovation – as they did to wearing seatbelts or not drinking and driving – but it will be a gradual cultural change.

The outcome

There’s little doubt in the minds of transport experts that platooning will offer huge benefits to all road users in the decades to come. Better traffic flow, safer roads, efficiency gains and the lowering of CO2 emissions are all sufficiently worthy goals to ensure that whatever the obstacles confronting this new technology, they can be overcome.

And then we can get on with looking forward to self-driving trucks…
Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell

Is Uber the shot in the arm haulage needs?

On the surface, the ‘uberification’ of freight seems like both a natural progression in a tech-enabled world as well as a bit of a no-brainer. More intelligently matched fleets with clients, faster and with more streamlined payments? So far so simple and not a great deal to write home about. That is, until you delve beneath the surface to find out what’s really happening and how it looks set to change the face of freight.

The birth of Uber Freight

While Uber’s global expansion has been rapid it has grown organically. Infrastructure hasn’t been an issue in the private hire market as most drivers sign up to the service with their own cars and they have focused on the lucrative city market where there is plenty of demand.

The freight infrastructure is different. The company needs to access a large number of tractor-trailers from the get-go to establish a working brand. It also needs volume to be able to provide its service which will, like the private car market, be based on having transportation available quickly and at the right price.

So Uber’s first step has been to buy into the existing freight market with the acquisition of self-driving truck company, Otto, for $650 million. With its focus on self-driving trucks, Otto is giving Uber not just an entry into the trucking space but an entry into the space that is arguably ahead of many of the major competitors.

The future of freight is automated

Discussions about self-driving cars are well underway with increasing numbers on the roads already having some degree of intelligent co-piloting systems, from self-parking to full self-driving capability.

Aside from Uber, there are a number of start-ups looking into the self-driving freight vehicle. Peloton Technology automates safety systems between pairs of trucks; Embark has launched technology to combat driver tiredness and Einride has created a remote control electric truck prototype[1].

With its acquisition of Otto, Uber not only has access to a ready-established trucking operation but one that is already making inroads into the self-driving truck universe. However this sector pans out in the future, it already has wide-ranging implications for the freight sector.

Automated and self-driving fleets are not quite the same thing. Automation removes a number of tasks from the driver from parking to systems monitoring to security and communications while self-driving takes away the physical need of the trucker to drive the unit.

As with self-driving cars, in fleet this raises questions about driver distraction and responsibility. Manufacturers and OEMs will be keen to find ways to resolve these issues because there are also huge benefits to automating the drive process. In freight, we might come to think of the driver more as a pilot and transport manager, maintaining systems, monitoring goods in transit and being present during more complex manoeuvres.

Self-driving units in these stages could dramatically reduce the amount of driver fatigue. More tractor trailers could be attached to a single unit, creating more efficient road trains for larger loads. Units themselves can be driven within precise parameters to maximise energy usage and minimise spend. All of this streamlines operations for fleet owners and reduces cost – for them and their clients.

Tomorrow’s benefits today

While the automation and self-drive capabilities are in-market in the freight sector, they remain at a very early stage. Uber, and similar companies such as Convoy, will be wanting to make returns on their investment today.

In reality, most of the advantages of an Uber approach to freight come from the company’s existing capabilities in terms of digitisation, crowd sourcing and efficiency.

Uber Freight brings drivers and vehicles on board via its database and matches them up with loads needing shipped. While they are shown compatible loads, they have the opportunity to pick and choose the loads they are happy to take.

Uber also cuts out the element of negotiation with a fixed pricing structure and is also bringing its controversial surge system where trips become more costly dependent on demand.

Pooling resources in this way should mean more timely deliveries for clients, lower energy usage resulting in both cost savings and environmental benefits as well as less wear and tear both on drivers and their units.

Cloud-based brokerage systems such as Uber’s and Convoy’s do have clear benefits for both freight manager and client. Pricing is transparent and automated, taking personality clashes and partisanship out of the equation. It allows loads to be matched and in time we may see several client loads of similar type and destination batched together to allow a single skilled driver to accompany the lot, rather than a specialist driver for each truck.

There will undoubtedly be ramifications, particularly for drivers. Automation and self-drive will take a great deal of the repetitive and low-skilled operations away from truckers. While we are unlikely to see fully-unmanned freight crossing the country, in the near future at least, drivers may find themselves fulfilling other roles and will need upskilling – or replaced – as a result.

When Uber Freight launched in May 2017, its then CEO, Travis Kalanick was reported as saying to Business Insider that it would be a “challenging, interesting, nuanced business.”

Freight is a sum of many more parts than personal car hire and one with deep set legacies across both its technologies and culture. The established Uber brand may be what is needed to bring the sector into a more technological age but it won’t necessarily be guaranteed a smooth ride.

 

Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell

Why your truck drivers leave and what you can do about it

Driver retention is a hot topic in fleet, with the industry currently suffering from an unprecedented shortfall in lorries drivers.

The Road Haulage Association says it is short of over 34,000 drivers – a figure which looks set to increase further with an ageing workforce (nearly half of HGV drivers are over 50 years-old).

As recruiting new people is so difficult, it’s more vital than ever to hold on to the employees you have.

But long distance trucking is hard. Lorry driving can be a lonely, tiring, unhealthy, stressful job. The hours are long – more than 60 hours a week is common according to the Office for National Statistics. Drivers are away from friends and family for large chunks of time. Wages are low (average hourly wage in road-freight transport is £10.44); conditions on the road are tough with healthy food and good showers sometimes hard to find.

While some of the factors are out of a fleet manager’s immediate control, there are several ways you can help retain drivers by supporting their wellbeing at work. A good start is to find out drivers’ biggest concerns and address them before they hand in their keys.

Not enough time at home

Unsurprisingly, with all those hours on the road, drivers value keeping in touch with family and friends highly. Shell’s UK and Mediterranean Health Manager Dr Marianne Dyer’s Care for Driver session at Make the Future 2017 suggested fleet managers follow these steps to address this pressing issue:

  • Draw up work schedules to enable work/ life balance
  • Partner with providers for free wifi spots
  • Ensure emergency contacts are available and drivers know how to access them wherever they are
  • Have an emergency SOS policy in place so drivers can get drivers home
    in case of urgent need (eg birth, illness)
  • Have a SOS road assistance programme drawn up and well disturbed among your drivers

 

Lack of privacy and rest

With frequent nights spent in a cab and long hours on the road, drivers naturally value quality of sleep, rest and privacy among the most important factors to their wellbeing.

To address a driver’s need for privacy and rest, Shell’s Dr. Dyer suggested implementing the following approaches:

  • Get a Fatigue Risk Management system in place
  • Ensure a route offers quiet resting facilities where drivers can take a nap if possible
  • Create awareness and provide information on importance of sleep and managing fatigue
  • Put a stop work policy in place

A lack of healthy food on the road

Truck driving usually means relying heavily on convenience and fast food – sometimes the only option at service stations. This is a harder area for a fleet manager to oversee but there are still several measures you can put in place to help support your drivers. These can include:

  • Promoting awareness and information on healthy nutritional food
  • Encourage employees to plan ahead before they hit the road so they have more control over their diet
  • Provide drivers with a place they can store food hygienically

Not feeling safe and secure

Driving for work carries with it its own risk. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that up to a third of all road traffic accidents involve somebody who is at work at the time.

Helping drivers stay safe and feel secure, goes beyond ensuring you don’t set unrealistic (and possibly illegal) delivery schedules or deadlines, which may encourage drivers to exceed speed limits or take shortcuts or other risks. Taking preventative measures can help drivers feel more confident and secure in their role. Steps you could consider include:

  • Defensive driving course
  • Incident reporting and learning
  • First aid and emergency response
  • Shift work acclimatisation programme

There’s no one solution to dealing with drivers’ problems and concerns, but the key to understanding why your drivers leave, is to understand what’s important to them. Putting in place a few measures to address their biggest worries and help facilitate your employees’ happiness (and consequently increase your company’s success) will go some way to ensuring they feel invested and secure in their role.
Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell

How a great service station can improve driver wellbeing

Making things better for fleet drivers and managers:  Why Shell are investing in service stations.

From overpriced food to severe limits on parking times, it’s no secret that service stations can leave a lot to be desired. The widely varying standard of services for professional drivers has long been a cause for concern in the fleet world and could be damaging driver safety and wellbeing, with motorists discouraged from taking breaks due to poor facilities.

A recent study conducted by the RAC found that nearly nine in 10 drivers think UK service stations offer poor value for money, while a large proportion described these stop-offs as “not a pleasurable experience”.

One survey found 45% of drivers didn’t stop at service stations as they believed the food, drinks and snacks to be overpriced. The same survey by Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) found the majority (65%) said they didn’t stop simply because they didn’t feel they had to despite breaks being essential for drivers’ health and safety.

Poor facilities may also be responsible for the industry’s gender imbalance. Rob Flello MP, former chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freight Transport notes, “facilities are bad enough for men, and poor or non-existent for women”.

That’s why improving service stations is key to ensuring a better future for fleet managers and drivers. Turning these essential stop-offs into enjoyable experiences can radically change how drivers feel about their work; increasing comfort, efficiency, safety and job satisfaction.

While apps like MotorwayBuddy are enabling fleet drivers to seek out better roadside services, Shell are working to make good services the rule rather than the exception.

Beaconsfield, near the M25 J16, is one of the 1000+ sites Shell are investing in. With its comfortable and bright buildings, surrounded by lake and woodland, Beaconsfield shows how service should be done. Its up-to-date facilities have earned Beaconsfield a place as one of best service stations in Europe, boasting award-winning washrooms, eateries for all tastes and big screen sports.

István Kapitány’s, Shell’s head of retail, is no stranger to the forecourt. Every quarter, he spends a day working at a petrol station – not just “smiling and giving advice”, but doing a full 12-hour shift. Because of this, he understands the challenges facing fleet managers and drivers. Kapitány says Shell has spent “quite a bit of money” since 2012 revamping 400 of its UK petrol stations – increasing capacity, adding parking spaces and installing DHL pick-up points.

Improving the convenience of service stations is top of Shell’s priorities. Better retail options and mobile banking are just some of the ways things are getting easier for drivers.

Kapitány continues: “We are seeing a huge number of people coming to service stations who are not filling up their cars. They are coming in to buy breakfast, to get a cup of coffee, to get their car washed. Their need for convenience retail is more frequent than their car’s need for fuel”.

With forecourt innovation, Shell are also investing in an environmentally sustainable future for fleet drivers. Entering into a joint venture with Daimler and others, Shell are exploring methods of commercialising hydrogen gas for more eco-friendly vehicles and testing out solar panel powered stations at China’s truck stops.
Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell