Low emission zones due to expand

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Van fleet operators who don’t go anywhere near London are probably heaving a sigh of relief this year after Transport of London cranked up its charging scheme to include all vans over 1.2-tonnes gross vehicle weight.

But that relief could be short-lived as many other councils across the country are keeping a close eye on how things pan out in the capital, with a view to introducing similar schemes in other cities.

As from January this year, all vans and 4x4 pick-ups which don’t meet Euro III emissions standards are being charged £100 per day to enter the zone. Failure to cough up leads to a fine of £500, which is reduced to £250 if paid within 14 days.

The Euro III standard was introduced in January 2002 so most bigger fleet operators won’t be affected as they don’t run vehicles this old. But TfL estimates that there are around 70,000 commercial vehicles still in operation which don’t meet the new criteria.

The reason for imposing an LEZ around London is that around 80% of NO2 concentrations in urban areas are as a direct result of traffic and mayor Boris Johnson has made it clear that he wants to bring this level down significantly.

He said: “Whether you live here, work here or are just visiting, London in my view is the greatest city on Earth. No other city can match the energy, dynamism and vast range of opportunities we can offer.

“But I’m also keen that the advantages of being big are matched by the joys of a smaller city – a civilised, high quality life in beautiful, safe surroundings, with effective public transport and a healthy environment, putting the village back into London.

“That’s why I brought in a wide range of measures to deliver cleaner air for London. The Low Emission Zone has played a part in that, drawing a boundary around our city that deters the most polluting vehicles.”

Despite initial fears that the new scheme would cause chaos among LCV operators, its introduction seems to have gone smoothly so far.

Nick Fairholme, director of congestion charging and traffic enforcement at TfL, said: “We are really pleased with the response of operators to the recent changes to the LEZ. In the first months since the new emission standards came into effect we have seen over 98% of vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles affected by the LEZ for the first time meeting the new standards. Lorries, buses and coaches, that were already affected by LEZ and were required to meet more challenging emission standards, are showing compliance rates of almost 92%.”

Confirmation that other councils are considering their own LEZ areas came from transport research group TRL. A spokesman confirmed: “Warrington Borough Council, for example, has commissioned us to undertake a feasibility study into LEZs. The project includes extensive engagement with stakeholders in order to work with local decision-makers and interested parties to find options that could have a positive effect on local air quality as well as being politically and economically acceptable.”

The council will assess a range of options before selecting those to be examined more closely.

How to avoid paying to enter the LEZ zone

  • Upgrade to newer vehicles – pricey but probably necessary even without the new LEZ rules
  • Have your vehicles converted so they comply with Euro III emissions standards.
  • The TfL website has a list of recommended conversions companies. Be warned: this process may cost up to £2,000 per van
  • If you only need to enter the capital a couple of times a year, consider renting vans on those days. LCVs can be hired for less than the £100 per day LEZ charge

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