Rise of the white van man

JonathanMay 9, 2014

Although they are normally the butt of driving jokes, becoming a white van driver is becoming ever more popular, with more light commercial vehicles (LCVs) on the roads than ever before.

A new report from the RAC has shown that the number of vans in the UK are growing far faster than cars or lorries. Between 2002 and 2012, there were 29 per cent more vans by the end of the period than at the start. This means that in the space of a decade, the number of white van men on the roads rose to 3.3 million.

In contrast, during the same period, there was an 11 per cent rise in the amount of cars, taking it to 28.7 million. Although there are more physical cars on the road, vans are increasing 2.5 times quicker, meaning that every 10th vehicle on the road is now likely to contain a white van man.

Lorries are lagging behind, with the number of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) actually dropping five per cent over the decade, taking its number to just 460,000. This suggests that more people, whether privately or as part of a business' fleet, are seeing the benefits of leasing or buying smaller vans, as opposed to massive lorries.

Indeed, the biggest percentage change was seen in the industrial areas of the UK, with the north-east and south-west experiencing the highest influx of vans.

In fact, British businesses are ahead of most of Europe, with only France, Spain and Italy having more vans registered than the UK. 

Due to the massive change in the numbers of LCVs over the decade, the RAC expects van traffic to have almost doubled by 2040, as more and more people see the benefits of using smaller vehicles to conduct business.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said that the "stereotypical white van man" often gets a lot of bad press, but the rapid growth in the number of LCVs suggests there is a "growing army of hardworking sole traders, delivery men and small businesses on whom the economy depends".

“Van travel and ownership has grown significantly in recent years and the government estimates future growth will also be high. Van traffic is set to almost double by 2040, rising twice as fast as traffic overall. The big question is why," he added.

The report found that most of the vans on the UK's roads (95 per cent) are diesel, suggesting that the vast majority are being used to transport goods in busy cities, where switching from petrol can see your costs plummet.
Professor Glaister said that, with three-quarters of British adults going online for their goods, there has been a big rise in the number of people using vans for home deliveries. In fact, Britain is leading the EU for internet shopping, which is making many UK-based retailers have to invest in vans to carry their goods to the customer.

He added: “There is also reason to believe hauliers are switching away from larger vehicles because of changing delivery patterns and growing environmental restrictions on HGVs. It could also be that more and more people are running their own businesses and need a van to carry their goods and tools.”

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