Category Archives: Local Authority

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES’ SILVER LINING FOR BETTER ROAD MAINTENANCE?

The introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs) could result in a better maintained local road network believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

Current live trials are pushing the momentum for the future introduction of driverless cars. In South London, driverless taxis car are currently being tested by FiveAL. The trials will test self-driving software on real busy roads in Croydon and Bromley. Trained drivers will be present in case something goes wrong. Also in London, focused on zones 1,2 and 3, Wayve are trialling eight driverless Jaguar I-Pace SUVs. Meanwhile, by the end of this year HumanDrive will have completed a 230 mile journey across the UK to test an AV in real road driving conditions from country roads to motorways.

The future benefits of self-driving cars include less accidents, improved use of road space, reduced congestion and pollution and more efficient fuel consumption. AVs would be equipped to ‘read the road’ and replicate the instinctive human ability to simultaneously observe, analyse, decide and react to every potential different road scenario such as potholes and reduced skid resistance.

“There is a flaw in the plan. The deterioration of the local road network due to decades on under-investment means that that rather than a vision of fast, smooth, well-spaced self-driving cars, the reality could be that poor road surfaces will cause the vehicles to switch to slow safety mode and signal constant warnings of approaching poor road surface conditions”, said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive.

However, Harper believes that the AVs having to go into repetitive safe mode could have a silver lining for local road investment. “Having to go into safe move would highlight the poor condition of the road surface and the need to do something about it. This would help local authorities with their business case for more funding to invest in local roads.”

Sensors fitted to AVs could provide live data on the road condition and so help local authorities not only know where pothole repairs are need but could provide the information necessary for planned programmes of maintenance.

Harper points to a research project being undertaken by Transport Scotland, Transport for West Midlands and Jaguar Land Rover to develop a system that enables AVs to spot and report potholes. Using a platform created by transport analytics firm Inrix, the AV Road Rules system would have a link to local road authorities alerting them to road damage or potholes to enable fast and efficient repair.

He said: “This is where AV’s could have a very useful role in improving the condition of our roads. Their adoption would provide real-time data that could prove valuable in developing and implementing surface dressing and maintenance programmes using a range of surface treatments, at the earliest signs of decay that would prevent potholes from forming in the first place.

AVs are being trialled as the future. This future should be one where potholes are prevented from forming as part of a well-managed, long term approach to road maintenance using the range of innovative, cost-effective surface treatments already available through RSTA members.”

WORKFORCE TRAINING A MUST FOR RECEIPT OF INCENTIVE FUNDS

Local authorities in England may have to provide evidence of their highways staff competence and training as part of their bids for road maintenance incentive funding in 2020 as DfT intend to instigate the “audit and review” process for the self-assessment process. With the self-assessment questionnaires due to be presented to the Department for Transport (DfT) early 2020, the launch of the RSTA’s autumn road training programme is well-timed.

As part of their self-assessment questionnaires bids for 2020/21 road maintenance incentive fund, local authorities need to provide data to demonstrate which Band they are in. The higher the Band the higher their share of the available funds with those in Band 3 receiving their full share, Band 2 receiving 50% and Band 1 just 10%.  DfT will not necessarily want to see the supporting evidence from every local highway authority, but it may undertake sample audits for the first time. The completed self-assessment questionnaires must be submitted by February 2020. Failure to submit a questionnaire will mean that the local authority will receive nothing from the incentive fund (which makes up 20% of the traditional highways budget for most local authorities

For many local highways authorities ongoing budget constraints has seen significant cutbacks in their training budgets. This is despite their full appreciation of the importance of having a well-trained and competent workforce and the fact that having such a workforce is an important element of the Highways Sector Scheme 13 whereby the workforce competence must be proven. The impact of training cuts is further compounded by many experienced highway engineers and operatives having been made redundant or have retired and not been replaced.

Against this background is the simple fact that if road maintenance is to be correctly carried out then a well-trained and competent workforce is essential for improved health and safety, quality of work, and increased productivity.

To assist local authorities meet their training needs, RSTA has developed a comprehensive training programme specific to the road maintenance sector. The programme offers training in surface dressing, slurry surfacing, and high-friction surfacing, as well as a series of ‘highways maintenance techniques’ training days held throughout the UK that are aimed at providing asset managers with knowledge of a wide range of surface treatments for optimising the life performance and reducing the whole life cost of asphalt pavements. Courses are linked to Sector Scheme 13 for the supply and application of road surface treatments and assessment is also available for operatives at NVQ Level 2, NVQ level 3 for Foremen and for supervisors at NVQ Level 4.

In addition, RSTA is working closely with local authority organisations such as LCRIG to deliver specific training events that facilitate best value through collaboration by allowing local authorities to train together. The RSTA is also collaborating with Xais Asset Management to provide skid policy courses for local authorities.

Mike Harper, chief executive at the RSTA commented: “In recent years, we have encouraged local authorities to collaborate and get engineers together from neighbouring authorities as well as their own staff.  We can provide training courses within a local authorities own premises for a fixed cost. Not only does this save on associated travel and hotel costs by taking the course to the learners, but by local authorities grouping together to get higher numbers of attendees for a one off fixed costs, the cost per learner may be more than halved, making those training budgets go further.”

He continued: “The inclusion of workforce competence and training within the incentive fund self-assessment underlines the essential role that training has in delivering cost efficient road maintenance. This is not lost on the DfT who very keen to see local authorities collaborating with each other and the supply chain. The RSTA autumn training programme is an excellent opportunity to do just that.”