The City of London Corporation is tackling air quality head on, with a range of initiatives it hopes other fleets will follow.
Air quality has risen up the political agenda, with a range of measures being considered to curb harmful emissions.
The most polluting vehicles face being charged to enter some cities, while fleets are being encouraged to make the switch to alternative powertrains.
The problem pollutants are nitrogen dioxides (NOx) and tiny particles known as particulate matter (PM10), with diesel seen as the main source.
But, rather than waiting for some government diktat, the City of London Corporation has decided to take matters into its own hands by banning the adoption of any new diesel vehicles where an alternative powertrain can be used.
Vince Dignam, business improvement and performance manager at the City of London Corporation, predicts there will be a “big switch” away from diesel within the next five to 10 years.
“I didn’t think I would see it that quickly, but people are keen to use alternatives where they will work for them,” he says.
“In the past, the driver (for change) has been the environment, but now people are beginning to understand how emissions impact health and that has become a major motivation for change.”
Currently, 38 out of 43 geographical zones in the UK are failing EU air quality standards and, while experts predict that 35 zones will be compliant by 2020, six cities – London, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton – are on track to fail without further improvements.
In response, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has launched a consultation on the introduction of clean air zones in Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton.
The draft framework states that the levels of charges for vehicles entering a clean air zone will be set by local authorities and details on which vehicles will be targeted are yet to be finalised.
London, meanwhile, is consulting on the possible expansion and earlier introduction of an ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), which would see the most polluting vehicles paying a charge to enter the city.
Dignam says it is crucial that the local authority sets an example when it comes to emissions and its ban on diesel vehicles is just the latest in a series of initiatives it has introduced aimed at improving air quality.
In May it announced plans for a crackdown on drivers who leave their engines idling, following a series of successful trials in the City of London.
And last year, it agreed a deal with London’s biggest private hire firm, Addison Lee, to automatically switch hybrid taxis to ‘electric mode’ in key areas of London’s financial capital, known as the Square Mile.
It has also created City Air app, which gives low pollution travel routes to some 15,000 Londoners, and introduced a city-wide 20mph zone, while new procurement rules have brought in tight restrictions on harmful emissions.
The ban on diesel vehicles however, has caught the attention of fleet operators, with Dignam suggesting that other local authorities in London could follow suit. “To be honest, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” he says.
Dignam started his career as a fleet engineer before working his way through the ranks to become the City of London’s business improvement manager.
He looks after the local authority’s cleansing, waste and recycling contract, as well as all corporate transport. The latter includes a fleet of 270 vehicles, consisting of 32 cars, 48 vans, four trucks and a further 186 others, such as golf buggies and quad bikes. In addition he oversees 900 items of plant.
The majority (90%) of the vehicles are outright purchase, with the remaining 10% evenly split between contract hire and finance lease.
Some elements of the fleet are managed in-house, while others are outsourced to Amey. Dignam explains: “Amey carries out the administration of the City’s fleet management system and some of the maintenance of its vehicles and plant.”
In 2011, Amey took ownership of 70 vehicles involved in the local authority’s waste, recycling and street cleansing operation. Prior to that, it had provided a labour-only contract for the service, with vehicles leased from the local authority at a peppercorn rent.
Key to the subsequent contract was a continuous improvement clause, which included reducing the CO2 impact of the fleet.
In the first 18 months, it reduced the carbon footprint by 55% after adopting larger refuse vehicles which could also perform a recycling role, allowing overall numbers to fall.
The corporate fleet policy though, is managed in-house, with budgets and decisions on purchase and disposal of local authority-owned vehicles and plant also managed in-house.
The local authority is responsible for the Square Mile and maintains around 10,000 acres (40 km2) of public green spaces in Greater London and the surrounding counties. The most well-known of the conservation areas are Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest. Other areas include Ashtead Common, Burnham Beeches, Highgate Wood and the City Commons – seven commons in south London.
It inevitably means its fleet is employed in a wide range of roles and over a large area. But this hasn’t stopped it reducing NOx and PM10 by more than 40% and 50% respectively since 2009, due to a reduction in overall fleet numbers and the purchase of newer and cleaner vehicles. The diesel ban aims to bring its emissions down further.
Dignam explains that anybody wanting to replace an existing vehicle of the organisation’s fleet must complete a questionnaire.
“What we’ve changed is the criteria for diesel vehicles,” he says. “We want to know whether they actually need the vehicle; whether there’s a smarter way of doing things and, if they’re requesting a diesel, evidence as to why there’s no alternative available.”
The process provides information on potential alternative powertrains such as electric, hybrid and compressed natural gas (CNG).
The corporation currently operates eight hybrid, one LPG and one hydrogen vehicle, but these are expected to be added to as the new procurement rules take effect.
A diesel LGV has been retrofitted with a hydrogen dual fuel system and, while it has only been on the fleet for a couple of months, Dignam says previous trails have suggested it’s cleaner than Euro 6 and should give it a 10% increase in fuel economy.
The local authority has also just completed a trial of a fully electric van and minibus from Chinese manufacturer BYD Auto.
“Fully electric vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes aren’t perfect,” he explains. “They haven’t got great ranges, but they work and do what you need them to do – the technology is getting better.”
However, cost can still be a major barrier to adoption, admits Dignam, with a diesel/petrol minibus costing £45,000 compared to £110,000 for an electric alternative.
“This is the problem everyone’s got,” he says. “When the finances of local authorities are being squeezed, it makes that sort of additional cost difficult to meet.
“Prices are beginning to drop though, and that will make choosing these sorts of vehicles easier. Just look at the Nissan Leaf and e-NV200, they are more affordable now and that’s where we need to be.
“However, I still see a big problem with the LGV market because it’s extremely difficult to get the power needed from an alternative source. CNG could provide the answer, but there has to be the infrastructure to make it work.”
Whatever the technology, Government support will remain essential to help fleets make the switch, says Dignam, as well as initiatives such as LoCity, launched by Transport for London (TfL) this year.
Over the next five years, LoCity will be working with freight and fleet operators, vehicle manufacturers, infrastructure providers and procurers to increase the availability and uptake of low emission commercial vehicles. It will also be launching a fleet advice programme, offering guidance, tools, training and support.
A founder member of the scheme, Dignam says: “LoCity will help drive the adoption of cleaner technologies, just as CLOCS has helped vehicle safety.”
CLOCS was formed in response to the Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety report published in 2013, to improve the management of work-related road risk and embed a road safety culture across the industry.
The corporation is a CLOCS supporter and has also gained gold accreditation with the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS).