Fleet operators should not panic over upcoming air quality legislation and the introduction of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) affecting diesel vehicles.
This message of reassurance were delivered by David Watts, consultant at Arval, at a recent Fleet200 meeting while elsewhere councils were revealing they will seek consultation not confrontation with fleets about how best to implement clean air policies in accordance with Government directives.
Watts said Euro 6 vehicles won’t be affected by the new regulations – which could include restrictions or charges for entering city centres – as most fleets will already be fully Euro 6 compliant before any changes come into play.
“Everything you read tells you this will be a bad thing, but there is a lot more to it,” he said.
CAZs do not need to incorporate charging, but, if they do, the cleanest vehicles must be exempt. Currently the legislation outlines that Euro 6 diesel and Euro 4 petrol vehicles must be allowed free entry to such zones.
“The Government has said charging zones should be a last resort. They aren’t in the local authorities interests because the practical impact is very big,” he said.
“For fleets there is really nothing to worry about. You’re not likely to get charged because your vehicles will already comply. The legislation won’t be in effect until 2021-2022 either, so everything on your fleet should be Euro 6 by then,” Watts said.
Meanwhile, council leaders and environmental chiefs are reaching out to the fleet community in a bid to work together on changes needed to curb air pollution.
In the UK Government’s air quality plan, revealed earlier this year, 29 local authorities are expected to develop local schemes or introduce CAZs. There are tight deadlines for planning, with initial local air quality plans due by March next year and final plans to be in place by the end of 2018. Already six zones have been mandated seeing London joined by Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton.
This month, Scotland launched a consultation on how best to introduce low-emission zones (LEZs) following a commitment to have them in its biggest cities by 2020. Officials want to launch the first LEZ as early as next year.
Scotland Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said: “We have a clear vision for Scotland’s air quality to be the best in Europe. The vehicles to be included in, or be exempt from, LEZs will be for individual local authorities to decide, but could include freight, taxis, buses and private motor vehicles.”
LEZs were introduced in 1996 in Sweden to improve air quality, and there are now more than 250 LEZs across 15 European countries either operating or in planning phase.
The pace of change across the UK means local authority officials are still developing policy and liaising with the Government as they reach out to fleets to update them on potential changes.
Nottingham City Council has already held a briefing for more than 100 fleets to talk about its journey towards introducing a low-emission zone, although the picture for change is still emerging.
A council executive, who asked not to be named, said: “The guidance on how this is going to work is a bit grey. Most local authorities are under-resourced and departments are already tasked with carrying out a range of other roles, so there is a question over how they are going to fund and resource this additional work.
“Clarity is definitely needed. There is no magic bullet, so there will be different interpretations as there is no guidance from the Government.
“We have said to fleets ‘the zone is coming and we will tell you what we know’.”
He said the council is working with businesses to support them, carrying out fleet reviews, speaking to fleet managers and discussing training needs, for example, so mechanics can deal with electric vehicles, as thousands are expected to take to the streets in the next few years.
Despite the concerns, Nottingham officials are confident they will be able to implement a successful scheme following their achievements in launching the country’s only workplace parking charge in 2012.
The charge of £387 per space, levied on 5,500 car parking spaces, brings in millions of pounds a year for investment in public transport initiatives, which has included the funding of one of the world’s biggest compressed natural gas bus fleets.
However, there are many hurdles to overcome for any zone.
Issues include the area covered by zones, how they will work the technology to monitor them and whether charges will be necessary.
As a result, there are concerns that a patchwork of different approaches will develop.
For example, some zones might require automatic numberplate recognition cameras to monitor vehicles entering a zone to ensure they are allowed. Alternatives being tested in Leeds uses ‘geofencing’ technology to automatically trigger electric hybrid engines to switch to zero-emission mode in polluted areas.
The Government has indicated that CAZs should be a last resort and this view is supported by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who says he has ‘no intention’ of introducing a congestion charge in the area.
Seven authorities within the Manchester metropolitan area – Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Salford, Tameside and Trafford – are named within the Government’s clean air plan as areas that need to draw up pollution proposals.
A Manchester spokesman confirmed quotes given to local media by Burnham that he had “no intention of charging ordinary motorists”.
Burnham said: “We need to improve air quality in Greater Manchester, but I have no plans for a congestion charge and no intention at all of punishing drivers of diesel vehicles.”
There is no confirmation that he is ruling out charging for vans or trucks.
Burnham has appointed an ‘environment tsar’, Stockport Council chief Alex Ganotis, to lead efforts to make the conurbation a world-leading green city region ‘where everyone can enjoy green spaces and breathe clean air’.
He will also attempt to get more people travelling using sustainable forms of transport, particularly focusing on cycling.
Councillor Ganotis has also been tasked with implementing plans for a ‘green summit’, bringing together stakeholders to set a new ambition for carbon neutrality across Greater Manchester – which Burnham says could be achieved between 2030 and 2040.
Ganotis said: “Improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions are two of the most important challenges facing Greater Manchester.
“It’s estimated that up to 2,000 people die prematurely in Greater Manchester each year due to air pollution and we’re working hard to reduce nitrogen dioxide and particulate levels in the air as quickly as possible, alongside aiming for a 48% in carbon emissions by 2020.
“Fleet companies with the same ambitions would be more than welcome to join us and, alongside other partners and organisations, together we can address the issues of air quality and carbon reduction.
“We are looking at a range of solutions that could be implemented to improve air quality in Greater Manchester, but as the mayor has said we have no intention of punishing drivers of diesel vehicles as part of this.”
Scotland has also ruled out congestion charging, although the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 provides the legal basis for local authorities, with the approval of Scottish ministers, to establish road charging schemes.
The consultation document points out that it is not Scottish Government policy to adopt road charging, so it does not propose road charging for LEZs, although it does plan to enforce zones with a national penalty scheme.