Fleet News

London mayor’s air quality plans could form UK blueprint

The new mayor of London will canvass fleet operators on measures to tackle the capital’s air quality, including the expansion, and earlier introduction, of the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ).

The world’s first clean air charging zone is due to come into force from September 2020, but it could now be introduced from 2019, and could more than double in size.

Sadiq Khan is proposing a new ULEZ stretching 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.

However, Khan now wants to add an additional premium to the congestion charge for the most polluting vehicles from 2017, and begin to research a diesel scrappage scheme for the city.

“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.”

Almost 10,000 Londoners die every year because of pollution, according to the latest medical research. London does not currently meet the legal requirements for pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

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

New research published by the World Health Organisation showed that London breached safe levels of pollutant particles known as PM10.

Fleets operating outside the capital are also being urged to look carefully at the new mayor’s clean air proposals, as they could form a blueprint for how vehicles are targeted in other major UK cities.

Ashley Sowerby, managing director at fleet management software specialist Chevin, said similar air quality problems to London affected many other places in the UK and solutions adopted were likely to serve as a model for other areas.

“A key point to note is that the new suggestions are envisaged as happening much more quickly than previously,” said Sowerby. “The additional congestion charge could happen in 2017 and the extended emissions zone by 2019.”

He higlighted the recent naming of the UK’s first four Go Ultra Low cities – Nottingham, Bristol, Milton Keynes and London – as evidence of a general trend towards central and local government working to improve air quality.

“This is something that fleets across the country will undoubtedly be encountering more and more,” Sowerby said.

“We could soon reach a point where they have to address the issue operationally, especially as the timings being discussed will add impetus.”

Khan is expected to launch a consultation in the next few weeks, when further details on his proposals will be made available, but it is clear he is prepared to radically overhaul existing plans to clean-up the capital’s air quality.

“We need big, bold and sometimes difficult policies if London is to match the scale of the challenge,” he said.

However, the potential scale and speed of change is a major cause of concern for the fleet industry.

“These last-minute adjustments to the ULEZ scheme would not give businesses time to prepare,” said Gerry Keaney, chief executive of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA).

“They could punish a large number of companies who have already planned their vehicle requirements based on the scheduled 2020 introduction date.

“It took years of planning, research and consultation to come up with the current ULEZ proposals and rushing through with any changes could have major unforeseen repercussions.”

The current proposals set rules for cars, vans and trucks:

  • Diesel cars and small vans will need to be Euro 6-compliant (registered from September 1, 2015; five years old or less in 2020) and Euro 4 for petrol powertrains (registered from January 1, 2006; 14 years old or less in 2020).
  • Large vans and minibuses will be required to be Euro 6-compliant for diesel engines (registered from  1 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), meanwhile, will have 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.

Hackney Council corporate fleet manager Norman Harding said that any changes introduced without suff-icient 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 called for HGVs to be banned from central London altogether, but the Freight Transport Association (FTA) wants to make sure its concerns are heard before any policy decisions are made.

Khan has previously said banning HGVs from central London during rush hour periods would be considered.

Natalie Chapman, FTA head of policy for London, south east and east of England, said: “Freight in London has gone up the agenda, which is good.

“However, we want to make sure we’re not just treated as part of the problem with restrictions and bans.

“We haven’t been contacted by the mayor’s department yet, but we have written to him to request an early meeting.

“It’s important we can start discussions early to talk things through before policy is decided.”

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 needs to be delivered by HGV.

“Not much can be delivered by the use of ‘final mile’ type alternatives.

“Banning HGVs would bring London to a standstill.”

Khan, however, has said he will continue the LoCity programme, working with manufacturers, operators and businesses to reduce emissions from HGVs and vans.

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