Ice cream van Tracker

O2 reinvents ice-cream van with first ever 4G app-trackable fleet

For decades, their chugging and chiming has signalled the start of summer and feeding time for generations of children armed with small change and sweet tooths. Now, Britain's ice cream vans are stalling their way into a winter of discontent and towards an uncertain future in which they face becoming as endangered as milk floats.

Meltdown for the country's estimated 5, 000 ice cream vans started with the rise of the domestic freezer in the Fifties but has been compounded more recently by new EU rules introducing lower emission limits. These mean that many older ice cream vans face costly conversions or face being taken off the road.

In London, meanwhile, tighter emissions standards will come into force from January next year. Some ice cream vans will be able to fit a filter, but the charge for those that don't will be £100 a day.

The amendments add to an already long list of expenses for ice cream sellers, including insurance and a trade licence costing around £800 annually.

"We thought this summer would be the great summer that the industry needed, " said Stuart Whitby, managing director of Whitby Morrison, the UK's largest manufacturer of ice cream vans.

"Trade got off to a cracking start. April and May were as good as any we've had for as long as we can remember. But June and July was a washout and August was typically mixed."

As recently as five years ago there were an estimated 20, 000 vans plying the streets with Mr Whippy and assorted Feasts, as well as burgers, hot dogs, and overpriced cans of fizzy drink. The fleet has been reduced to a quarter of that size, with councils piling on more pressure by banning vans from some housing estates, parks and schools because of concerns about noise pollution and childhood obesity.

Other authorities have created ice cream selling exclusion zones in town centres, hiked the cost of a van operator's licence and limited how long vans can sound their chimes. Soaring food and petrol prices have also helped drive a flake into the heart of an industry already on its knees.

That the distinctive chimes of the ice cream van are disappearing from our streets may cause a pang of nostalgia, but not enough people, it seems, are sending out their children to vote with their feet.

"The industry bottomed out about five years ago, " said Mr Whitby. "Street vending has dramatically changed. Supermarkets are selling ice cream far more cheaply than ice cream vans can, every corner shop and garage forecourt has an ice cream freezer. There are less and less vans doing the rounds.

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