Red tape and costs to improve air quality ‘must be minimised’

Transport for London (TfL) has warned that red tape and costs “must be minimised” for commercial fleets targeted with improving air quality.

The capital, which could become a blueprint  for other UK pollution hotspots, is due to be  the world’s first clean-air zone from September 2020. 

However, the new mayor of London has drawn up proposals that could see the so-called ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) introduced a year earlier than expected, and more than double in size.

Sadiq Khan is proposing the new zone would stretch from north to south circular roads.

Under existing plans it was due to only apply to the current congestion charge zone, with drivers of non-compliant cars having to pay £12.50 per day to enter.

But Khan now wants to add an additional premium to the congestion charge for the most polluting vehicles from 2017.

“I have been elected with a clear mandate to clean-up London’s air,” he said.

“The previous mayor was too slow on this issue and the Government has been hopelessly inactive. We need to speed up our efforts.”

Transport accounts for around 60% of nitrogen oxide (NO2) emissions in the capital, of which cars contribute 28%, vans 9%, HGVs 18% and buses and coaches 16%.

As it currently stands, London’s ULEZ will require:

  • Diesel cars and small vans to be Euro 6-compliant (registered from September 1, 2015; five years old or less in 2020) and Euro 4 for petrol powertrains (registered fromJanuary1, 2006; 14 years old or less in 2020).
  • Large vans and mini buses to be Euro 6-compliant for diesel engines (registered from September 1, 2016; four years old or less in 2020) and Euro 4 for petrol (registered from January 1, 2007; 13 years old or less in 2020).
  • Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) to be Euro 6-compliant (registered from January 1, 2014, six years old or less in 2020).

There are already plans in place to make all new London taxis zero-emission from 2018 and to increase the number of hybrid-electric buses ahead of the introduction of the ULEZ in 2020.

TfL is currently looking at what the economic impact will be if Khan’s proposals are adopted. However, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) believes they would add substantial cost to all London businesses, and potentially put some small companies out of work altogether.

Christopher Snelling, head of national and regional policy at the FTA, said: “Freight operators and the service industry could find themselves being charged extra for their vehicles before they have had any reasonable chance to upgrade.”

If the ULEZ is introduced earlier than expected, trucks could be charged just three years after their Euro 6 standard is enforced, and vans just months after, as their Euro 6 standard does not start until this autumn.

Snelling explained: “The tipping point, where these regulations become less disruptive to business, is around eight years after the Euro standard was introduced, when a third to half the fleet is compliant, and the second hand market is fully developed allowing all companies to upgrade.”

Hackney Council corporate fleet manager Norman Harding said that any changes introduced without sufficient time to adapt fleet replacement strategies would create a problem. “While a five-year replacement cycle for LCVs may be acceptable in most cases, this is usually too short a window for HGVs or PCVs,” he said.

Green campaigners have also called for HGVs to be banned from central London during rush hour periods, but Harding labelled any potential restriction or ban of HGVs in London as “incredibly naïve”.

“The mayor will also need to progress house building for an ever increasing population and the materials required can only be delivered by HGVs,” he said.

“Many things that we take for granted, such as shop stock, food and beverage outlets, petrol stations and much more, need to be delivered by HGV. Not much can be delivered by the use of ‘final mile’ type alternatives.”

Mike Brown, London’s transport commissioner, urged fleets to respond to the consultation, due to be launched in the next few weeks, to ensure any changes introduced are “credible and deliverable”.

He said: “Opportunities exist today for introducing ultra-low emission vehicles in many sectors. But this will be more challenging in some sectors than others.

“In the construction industry, for example, where power is needed to move those heavy vehicles and bulky loads, there is at present not quite a suitable, viable alternative to diesel engines.”

However, he said that there was a need for fleet operators to move to Euro 6-compliant engines “as quickly as possible”.

LoCity – a new initiative part-funded by TfL – commissioned research to understand fleet operators’ knowledge and awareness of viable alternative fuels for HGVs and vans.

Of the 200 operators sampled, 14% operated at least one ultra-low emission vehicle, with a further 33% planning to add them to their fleet.

However, just 26% reported positive experiences or perceptions of alternative powertrains, while more than a third (34%) were deemed to have a neutral viewpoint and 40% fell into the ‘negative’ category.

The research also showed that additional financial incentives will be needed to increase the uptake of low-emission vehicles.

“The Government could consider extending the plug-in van grant to larger vehicles and retro-fit solutions, and extend eligibility to all zero-emission tailpipe solutions,” said Brown.

Oliver Chadwick, senior policy advisor at the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), said this was something that it was “actively looking at”.

Commercial fleets would welcome additional help, especially when new clean air zones, which could result in charges being introduced for the most polluting vehicles or them being banned altogether, are likely to be needed in five other English cities that are projected to fail EU air quality standards by 2020.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) report says that Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton, as well as London, should consider “access restrictions” for certain types of vehicles.

Currently, 38 out of 43 geographical zones in the UK are failing EU air quality standards due to high levels of NOx – the gas emitted by burning fuels, especially diesel.

However, 35 zones are expected to be compliant with EU rules by 2020, while the six cities identified by DEFRA are on track to fail without further improvements.

Brown said: “It is important to recognise that these cities have their own individual challenges that sometimes need to tailor their own solutions. But this should be done in a framework that minimises regulatory burden and the cost of compliance.”

Jonathan Bray, director of the Urban Transport Group, blamed the Government for what he described as a “fragmented approach” to air quality.

He said: “It feels like there has been a lack of bold, cohesive leadership from the Government to provide a framework within which we can work.”

The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) has been working with the affected cities, and has stressed the importance of adopting a common standard.  

Andy Eastlake, managing director of Low CVP, said: “We don’t want a London standard and a Birmingham standard; we want a common standard for commercial vehicles across the UK.”

LoCity to help fleets make ‘informed’ decisions

In the same way that TfL’s CLOCS (Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety) scheme transformed the management of work-related road risk, and FORS (Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) promoted best practice, TfL’s LoCity programme hopes to persuade more fleets to explore alternative powertrains.

At its first conference, held in London in May, delegates heard how it aims to create new environmental operating standards to help anyone buying goods or services to specify the use of low emission vehicles.

It also plans to investigate, through research and trials, the impact of cleaner vehicles on business operations to give confidence to operators who may be considering adding low emission vehicles  to their fleets.

London transport commissioner Mike Brown said that LoCity will be launching a fleet advice programme about alternative powertrains later this year. “I want businesses to make informed decisions about low emission vehicles,” he said.

“ will allow operators of commercial vehicles to make informed decisions with  a usable, independent and jargon-free  source of information on alternative fuels  and vehicles.”



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