A large scale switch to electric vans would dramatically worsen the congestion on London’s roads, according to Richard Crook, director of fleet for parcel delivery firm DHL.

Speaking at a London Assembly Transport Committee meeting that looked to explore viable alternatives to light commercial vehicle use in the capital, Crook said: “If we went down the electric vehicle route we would put more vans out there.”

Due to the compromised payload and load capacity Crook added: “One electric van is not as efficient as one diesel van.”

Crook claimed electric vans could cost operators two and a half times as much as  diesel vans and would require twice as many drivers per fleet, thus creating more congestion.

Crook also argued that the maximum gross vehicle weight of a van permitted to be driven without an HGV driver’s licence should be increased from the current 3.5-tonne limit in order to reduce the number of freight carrying vehicles on the city’s roads.

“If we could get the weight raised to 4.0-tonnes it would give us the legal ability to carry more parcels,” he said.

Val Shawcross, chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, said van traffic in London had grown “disproportionately compared to HGVs” and now accounted for one in five vehicles on the roads during peak times.

Christopher Snelling, head of National and Regional Policy and Public Affairs at the Freight Transport Association, said this increase in van use was “a reflection of economic prosperity”.

He said internet shopping had increased the demand for time-sensitive deliveries and pointed out that the astronomical cost of commercial property in London meant businesses need to make use of every inch of retail space. But he also highlighted that tradespeople account for around half the vans in London.

Jo Godsmark, chairman of the Charted Institute of Logistics and Transport, said the rise in dotcom shopping had led to an increase in small drop deliveries and a rise in the number of retailers outsourcing their delivery operations, which meant van traffic had become harder to trace.

“Journeys are less visible than with their own fleets,” she claimed.

Ian Wainwright, head of Freight and Fleet Programmes, Transport for London, claimed 40% of vans entering the London Congestion Zone are unbranded. He said from September TfL had enlisted the police to pull over vans to discover the purpose of their journeys in order to increase the amount of data on LCV traffic.

Wainwright said: “Vans are efficient for the buyers and sellers of services and deliveries but not for how the city (traffic) works.”

But when the Transport Committee questioned whether vans are often used for deliveries that motorbikes could undertake, the FTA’s Snelling replied: “Only a small proportion of goods are sustainable for motorbikes.”

Snelling added: “A fully-laden van is more efficient than a one-person car or minicab.”