Fleets should “act now” if they want to avoid being hit with toxin taxes aimed at improving air quality.
The warning comes after Mayor of London Sadiq Khan revealed plans to charge the most polluting vehicles entering the capital and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) considers schemes for the rest of the UK.
Diesel cars and vans that do not meet the Euro 6 environmental standard will have to pay £12.50 to enter central London from April 8, 2019, while HGVs, buses and coaches will face a daily charge of £100.
Khan is also proposing to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) across Greater London for heavy diesel vehicles, including buses, coaches and lorries, in 2020, and as far as the North and South Circular roads for cars and vans in 2021.
John Chuhan, chief risk officer at Alphabet, said: “For those business leaders mistakenly thinking this is a London-centric issue, the expected unveiling of new air pollution measures from environment secretary Andrea Leadsom should demonstrate this is an issue for the whole UK, not simply the south-east corner.
“UK businesses, whether they are large corporates or SMEs, need to act now to ensure they are prepared for the drastic changes demanded by the sustainable, low-emission future of transport. Simply ignoring the matter won’t make it go away and waiting until 2019 will be too late.”
Chuhan urged fleets to begin reviewing business travel, company car and LCV policies now. They need to understand vehicle journey patterns for both private and business usage and put plans in place to convert their existing fleet to ultra-low emission vehicles where appropriate, as well as consider the provision of a charging infrastructure at work, home and on the move.
Khan has already confirmed the £10 T-Charge (toxicity charge), which will start this October. He is now proposing that this will be replaced by the world’s first ULEZ in April 2019, following a public consultation he launched last week. The ULEZ will cover the same area as the existing congestion charging zone.
Petrol vehicles that do not meet Euro 4 standards and diesel vehicles that do not meet Euro 6 standards will have to pay a ULEZ daily fee (£12.50 for cars, vans and motorbikes; £100 for buses, coaches and HGVs) to drive in the zone, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It means petrol cars that are approximately more than 13 years old in 2019 (typically registered before January 2006 when Euro 4 came into force for all cars), and diesel cars that are more than four years old in 2019 (typically registered before September 2015), will not meet the new standards. Vans above 1,305kg registered before September 2016 when Euro 6 was enforced will also not meet the standards if they are Euro 5 diesel engines.
The total cost, with the congestion charge added (during the times of day it is applicable), for motorists with non-compliant cars would be £24 a day.
The proposed ULEZ will apply to all vehicle types, including the emergency services. Only black taxis will be exempt.
Fleets are divided as to the merits of improving air quality by charging drivers of the most polluting vehicles to enter UK cities. A Fleet News poll revealed that 57.1% were in favour of the move.
The Government has previously committed to introducing five Clean Air Zones (CAZs), outside the ULEZ proposed for London. Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton are required to have a CAZ in operation by 2020.
However, Andy Eastlake, managing director of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP), believes many more cities could be given the go-ahead to target diesel vehicles.
He said: “It’s almost inevitable that other CAZs will be announced later this month – possibly as many as 35 – and there may be further details of potential access restrictions by types of vehicle.”
He warned: “Fleet managers need to pay careful attention to the impending announcement of Defra’s plan and to the Autumn Budget which looks likely to contain further measures to tackle air pollution. To be effective, these policies must touch almost every fleet on the road across the UK.”
The LowCVP is working with members to support a national approach to this critical policy area and to deliver mechanisms both to encourage uptake of the latest efficient vehicles and to help fleets meet the challenge. “Some of the biggest and quickest improvements can be made through focused retrofit programmes, working to complement the fleet renewal,” said Eastlake.
Once London’s mayor has finished consulting on current ULEZ proposals, he wants to start discussing the expansion of it to cover nearly all of Greater London. This zone, which would apply to heavy diesel vehicles such as buses, coaches and lorries, would be implemented in 2020.
A further consultation would look at extending the ULEZ so light vehicles, such as cars, vans, minibuses and motorcycles, were also included within the North/South Circular roads. This would be implemented in 2021.
However, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) have both warned the measures will have a detrimental effect on business.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett says the mayor risks turning the capital into a “ghost town”. He said: “The thousands of restaurants, shops and attractions that make London one of the world’s major tourist centres are reliant on an efficient delivery network which must not be jeopardised.”
Natalie Chapman, FTA head of policy for London and the south east, told Fleet News: “The impact will be especially hard for van users, as by 2019 there will only be two and a half years’ worth of compliant vehicles in the fleet – and no secondhand compliant vehicles available to buy at all.”
The FTA is calling for businesses in the affected area to have access to a sunset clause, such as has been offered to private residents, allowing them more time to comply with the change required without the need for the unnecessary and potentially crippling additional cost of new vehicles.
Khan insists his timescales will provide businesses sufficient time to prepare for these new standards, but he has also reiterated his call for a diesel scrappage scheme.
He has written to Prime Minister Theresa May to say she has a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to transform the quality of the air in London and across the country when the Government publishes its draft air quality plan. He has previously written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposing a targeted, fully-costed, city-led, time-limited approach.
Khan, said: “It is a national problem which requires national action. The only way we can make our lethal air safe is if the Government commits to the major measures experts agree are necessary to tackle this incredibly serious issue.”
Theresa May has hinted that diesel drivers may gain a partial reprieve from proposed punitive measures aimed at improving air quality. She said: “I’m very conscious of the fact that past governments have encouraged people to buy diesel cars and we need to take that into account.”
Downing Street is said to be considering introducing a scrappage scheme. The FTA supports such a scheme and believes it is the Government’s responsibility to help prevent the cost burden of implementing these measures falling on local authorities, businesses and residents.
Chapman concluded: “If such a scrappage scheme were created, it would give the mayor the room to introduce more flexibility to the London ULEZ, helping operators avoid some of this unwieldy burden on small businesses.”