Emissions laws and the effect on urban transport

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Planned special zones to reduce CO2 and NO2 in the air have prompted a step up in the search for viable alternative fuels and different methods of delivery 

Emission zones, congestion zones and parking availability are just a few of the issues affecting urban transport. While emission zones are nothing new to the UK, the number of plans put forward by councils around the country has increased dramatically over the past 12 months and here we examine how local laws could shape the future of inner city logistics.

Increasing scrutiny on diesels

Not long ago, diesel engines were promoted by governments and leading authorities as the cleaner, more economical and environmentally friendly alternative to petrol. However, a number of studies carried out in the middle of the past decade concluded the high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emitted by diesels was having a far greater effect on the public’s health than the high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in petrol.

This led the European Union to focus a number of its air quality directives, most notably the Gothenburg Protocol 2020, which had specific aims on NO2 levels. This imposed targets to reduce emissions in each member state but, in 2014, research undertaken by environmental campaign group ClientEarth highlighted just how far the UK was from meeting these targets, especially in urban areas.

Ultra-low emission zone

Facing millions of pounds in fines by the European Commission, former Mayor of London Boris Johnson was the first to lead the charge in 2014 by announcing plans for the world’s first ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) which only allowed free access to diesel vehicles that met the very latest Euro 6 emission standard or higher.

Originally, the boundaries were set around the existing congestion zone, but the new mayor, Sadiq Khan, plans to further extend it to the north and south circulars for passenger cars and vans of up to 3.5 tonnes GVW and London-wide for heavy trucks.

Vans and trucks will have to meet the Euro 6 emission standard or higher to enter the ULEZ (Euro 4 for petrol vehicles), or they will face a fine of £130 for cars and vans, or a hefty £1,000 for heavy trucks, although this fine will be halved if paid within 14 days. 

The ULEZ will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and there will be no barriers or toll booths. Cameras will read vehicle number plates as they are driven within the zone to check against a Transport for London (TfL) database. 

Khan intends to bring forward the introduction of the first stage to September 2019, and roll it out to the north and south circulars and the wider London region in 2020.

“The mayor has asked us to set out in detail and seek views on a range of proposals that will have a significant impact in reducing pollution in the capital,” explains Alex Williams, TfL managing director of planning. “We think these ambitious proposals show London is taking the lead globally in tackling one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. I would urge as many people as possible to respond to the consultation to help us shape our plans.”

Clean air zones

Following further criticism from ClientEarth, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced plans to introduce similar schemes to ULEZ, called clean air zones (CAZs), across five UK cities where the air quality is the poorest by 2020. These are Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton.

Unlike the ULEZ, which targets a broad range of vehicles, the CAZs will specifically target commercial vehicles. Passenger vehicles are unaffected. One of the targeted cities is Derby, but the city council says it’s still too early to state exactly how or when the plans will come into force.

“Based on local monitoring and assessment, Derby City Council currently only exceeds air quality standards for one pollutant, nitrogen dioxide (NO2),” explains Rajinder Mattu, its communications officer. 

“We have designated a total of three air quality management areas (AQMAs) in response to the exceedances and these primarily cover the outer and inner ring roads and a stretch of the A52 around Spondon.

“We haven’t spoken to any truck or van operators yet within the city, but we plan to engage with local stakeholders once we have sufficient additional local information available, such as the likely location and extent of the clean air zone and proposed charging levels for non-compliant vehicles.”

Scepticism within the industry

However, a number of industry authorities have raised concerns about the proposed plans. The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has spoken in support of a report into air quality and transport that claims Government plans for CAZs are too inflexible.

The House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report says CAZs, as defined by Defra, may not best address local air pollution problems and targeted schemes could be more effective.

“We are glad the committee noted FTA’s concerns on page 12 of its report that CAZs are a blunt tool,” says FTA head of national and regional policy Christopher Snelling. “Local air quality problems are just that – local. They differ in geographical extent and sources of pollution, and they will differ in terms of best solutions.”

FTA supports the statement by the committee that “cities may find it more effective to limit vehicle access at certain times of day or to target specific bus routes rather than adopt blanket access proposals”.

The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) has also commented on aspects of the scheme, including the amount of notice given. It argues operators choosing longer rental and leasing agreements could be penalised, as they may have opted for a non-compliant vehicle.

“Air quality is a big issue for Britain’s urban areas, and we can understand why the committee has called for councils to be given greater freedom to set up CAZs,” says BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney.

“The vehicle rental and leasing industry is concerned the UK could end up with a lack of consistency across CAZs – the Government needs to step up and deliver a framework for a nationwide network of low emission zones. 

“It’s also important motorists are not punished with retrospective measures for decisions they have already made. Fleets operate vehicles on three-, four- and five-year contracts, and need time to prepare for any significant change.

“Fleets need consistency, but a blanket ban of all diesel vehicles in city centres would be damaging to businesses – Defra must take a carrot-and-stick approach if it wants to drive the uptake of the least polluting vehicles, and bring the UK into compliance with EU air quality targets. 

“The committee rightfully recognises that Government incentives are needed to establish a self-sustaining low-emissions vehicle market. The BVRLA has repeatedly asked for in-life incentives that would benefit drivers of ultra-low emission vehicles, but the Government has failed to act.”

Alternative fuel vehicles

Over the past 30 years, manufacturers have been experimenting with a wide range of alternative fuel vans and trucks although there has been very little uptake from operators so far. But the increasing scrutiny on diesel vehicles could mean this is about to change.

“Regarding drivetrains, we will experience a broad mix in the future,” said Matthias Wissmann, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) at the IAA Commercial Vehicle Show last September. 

“Diesels will continue to play a key role in long-distance traffic. Natural gas, hybrid and electric drives are also becoming more and more important, especially in the light commercial vehicles (LCVs) and rigid trucks up to 26 tonnes which are used for deliveries and local distribution, because the large towns and cities are still growing, as is e-commerce.”

Compressed natural gas (CNG)

One alternative fuel gaining ground elsewhere around Europe is compressed natural gas (CNG). Companies whose trucks drive predominantly in urban environments will find that CNG offers a far lower environmental impact and a quieter engine. They are, on average, between five and 10 decibels quieter than diesel trucks which makes them ideal for night-time deliveries. 

One of the best-selling light duty CNG trucks is the Iveco Eurocargo Natural Power. The engineers have redesigned the ignition coils, blow-by valves and pistons of the six-litre Tector engine so it can run on CNG, which has reduced the CO2 emissions by 10%, NO2 by 35% and particulate matter by 95% compared with of its diesel counterpart, despite it still delivering an impressive performance with up to 210PS and 750Nm.

Aside from emissions, CNG has other tangible benefits. Fewer emissions means there are less combustion-derived deposits contaminating the oil, which means a reduction in oil changes. Many cities the world over are looking for alternatives to diesel-powered trucks and, in the field of refuse handling, renewable fuels are often a requirement for securing a contract to promote that company’s or authority’s green image.

There are also huge financial incentives. Although, on average, natural gas vehicles are slightly thirstier than diesel engines, the fuel bill will be considerably lower because natural gas is around 40% cheaper to buy in the UK. However, some other European countries, like Italy, have lowered their tax tariffs on CNG, which means the cost is sometimes less than half of diesel.

This explains why Italy is Europe’s market leader when it comes to CNG, with the fuel making up around 18% of new vehicle sales. There are now well in excess of 500,000 CNG vehicles registered on its roads. There is also great infrastructure in place, with 1,046 CNG filling stations nationwide.

It’s the issue of infrastructure that poses the greatest challenge to the CNG cause. It’s a ‘chicken or egg’ situation, with operators not willing to make the switch without a series of CNG filling stations along their popular routes and governments and fuel stations not willing to invest in CNG pumps without the guarantee of regular custom.

There are also disadvantages in terms of practicality, too. The natural gas tanks are a lot bulkier to cope with the high pressures involved (CNG is stored at around 3,000psi), which intrudes into the payload and load volume and, because the engines are less efficient, the range is also limited.

Despite this, many industry analysts are convinced CNG is a serious solution to urban challenges of the future, and manufacturers continue to plunge huge amounts of capital into research and development.

“Methane gas is the fuel that will become a sustainable alternative to diesel in the long term. Right now the focus is on working together with the various public authorities and private corporations to draw up the relevant rules and create the right conditions for positive development,” says Lars Mårtensson, environmental director at Volvo Trucks.

Electric diesel hybrids

Another alternative that the manufacturers are increasingly taking seriously is diesel/electric hybrid technology. A number of models have reached the production stage, most notably the DAF LF and Volvo FE hybrids, and provided operators with the flexibility of switching between the silent, zero emitting and cost-effective electric driveline and the longevity and range of diesel engines. 

“Studies have shown the use of hybrid drives in heavy trucks bears considerable savings potential,” says Winfried Gründler, who is responsible for truck and van driveline technology at ZF’s Commercial Vehicle Technology division. 

+“It is true emissions and fuel economy reductions of roughly between 10% to 15% that can be achieved in delivery traffic. With the considerably higher mileage and fuel consumption of heavy trucks, hybrid technology is nevertheless an economical and environmentally-friendly solution to urban transport that goes easy on resources and pays off within a reasonable time period.”

The Fuso Canter Eco Hybrid is the world’s best-selling light duty hybrid truck. It was the fruit of 20 years of expertise in hybrid systems from Fuso and parent company Daimler and first went on sale back in 2006.

The electric motor uses energy recuperation to support the 150PS 3.0-litre combustion engine which, together with the standard stop/start function and duonic automated dual clutch, reduces the fuel consumption and emissions. There are two 2kWh lithium ion batteries and the electric motor is rated at 40kW (54PS) and 200Nm. 

Since its introduction, the system has evolved and become more efficient and so operators using the latest generation models are seeing real fuel savings of around 23%, and a similar drop in emissions. Unlike most alternative fuels, there’s also no need to invest in specialist infrastructure as the battery is charged through energy recuperation and other means.

The increased mass of the hybrid technology, not least the lithium ion batteries, takes its toll on the payload, however. At 7.5 tonnes, the Canter Eco Hybrid offers a payload of around four tonnes, although this is less than the five tonnes-plus on the standard diesel variant.

There are also issues regarding sales and aftersales. The research and development costs are obviously passed on to the customer and reflected in the list price, while servicing and maintenance could be an issue as not every dealership, especially the independents, will have the specialist equipment required to carry out work on the hybrid technology.

Electric trucks

The advancement of intermodal logistic systems and the rise of ‘mega distribution centres’ means more fleets are running vans and trucks that are used specifically for the ‘last mile’ deliveries within the city. This opens up electric vehicles as a possible alternative, as the limiting range is no longer an issue. 

Renault Trucks showcased its all-electric D-range truck at the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris. The 16-tonne delivery truck recently completed a 12-month test with Speed Distribution Logistique, which commended its zero emissions, silent drive and low running costs.

“The initial tests we’ve carried out using this technology under real operating conditions with our customers have been very satisfying,” says Renault Trucks project manager Christophe Vacquier. “We are now going further with Guerlain and Speed Distribution Logistique, using the vehicle on 200km rounds which gives us confidence in the future of this technology.”

As well as the challenges presented by hybrid technology, pure electric technology has additional problems. Even around the city, range is an issue. During its 24-hour operating cycle, the vehicle covered 200km but needed charging several times, including a complete recharge between 7pm and 2am. 

Payload is also an issue; the two 85kWh lithium ion batteries increase the kerbweight to just under 10 tonnes, which leaves just six tonnes for payload.

Non-vehicle alternatives

The emission issues have come to the fore at a time the truck industry is facing other challenges, most notably the cyclist safety controversy and congestion, which is thought to cost London alone £6.3 billion each year. This begs the question as to whether heavy goods vehicles, as we know them, have a future in the urban environment.

A number of non-vehicle alternatives have been presented by technology companies, automotive manufacturers and even parcel delivery companies. 

By thinking outside the box, a range of weird and wonderful concepts have been born, like a 50cm high robot from Starship Technologies that delivers parcels to the door by driving itself along pavements. 

Perhaps the solution is receiving the most attention is unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Amazon is taking advantage of the Civil Aviation Authority’s recent decision to lift a number of stringent regulations to test delivery drones in Cambridgeshire. The vehicles can travel at speeds of up to 50mph and have a payload of 3kg, which can accommodate 86% of Amazon parcels.

“Using small drones for the delivery of parcels will improve customer experience, create new jobs in a rapidly growing industry, and pioneer new sustainable delivery methods to meet future demand,” declares Paul Misener, Amazon vice president of global innovation policy and communications. 

“The UK is charting a path forward for drone technology that will benefit consumers, industry and society.” 

Another impressive solution comes from Mole Solutions, which is also based in Cambridgeshire. Its innovative idea involves sending capsules full of freight along an electric track, propelled by magnetic fields like maglev trains, through a series of underground tubes.

“A freight pipeline system is the perfect answer to modern urban logistics,” says Roger Miles, managing director at Mole Solutions. “The operating costs are around 15% lower than that of a road transport system, and there are also significant advantages in terms of just-in-time costs and socio-environmental benefits from things like a reduction in accidents and air pollution.”

It’s time to change

For the first time in human history, more people are living in the urban environment and this added freight on urban roads is presenting huge challenges. The emissions from diesel engines is one key issue governments around Europe are aggressively tackling. But there will soon be other areas, which means keeping with diesel delivery vehicles and continually purchasing the ‘next level’ Euro emission rated truck is only a short-term solution. Urban logistics is changing, it’s just a matter of which path it follows. 

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  • Norman Brill - 28/06/2018 11:57

    This is all completely wrong. I can add much to this but no space. It is being used solely as a money making measure. All the assummptions are wrong and cannot be applied retrospectively.

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