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Banning diesel too soon will slow ability to develop replacements

Banning diesel vehicles could be the easiest way for cities to achieve air quality compliance in the shortest time, but punishing the fuel too quickly could halt the development of alternatives.

There are 33 local authorities in the UK that are expected to reach illegal levels of air pollution by 2021. The Government has mandated them to conduct feasibility studies and establish how they will reduce pollution levels.

Clean Air Zones (CAZs) are among the possible solutions. They would restrict access to the city by charging, fining or banning non-compliant vehicles.

Speaking at the Air Quality News Air Quality Conference last week, Steve Crawshaw, programme coordinator at Bristol City Council, said: “In a way, a diesel ban is a more equitable solution than a charging zone, because the charge doesn’t fall disproportionately on low income families. It inconveniences or penalises the wealthy in the same way as the less wealthy. It applies the sanction equally.”

Crawshaw has worked in air quality management for more than 20 years and is currently part of the team responsible for Bristol’s clean air strategy.

“It (a diesel ban) is one of the things we have considered. We have to be clear on what our constraints are – we have to deliver compliance in the shortest possible time and consider all the possible measures to achieve compliance,” he said. “There are some fairly radical measures that would get us to compliance in the shortest possible time and a diesel ban is one of them.”

But pulling the trigger on diesel so soon could have severe repercussions for the automotive industry. “Diesel is the bread and butter of the car industry,” said Suki Choongh-Campbell, environmental manager for air quality and ULEVs at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

“If we lose that and business drops drastically, there is no money to put into research and development for new and alternative technology. We are a self-financing industry, we don’t take big grants.”

There are currently around 13 million diesel cars on the road, with the fuel still accounting for 31.8% of new car registrations (2018 YTD).

Choongh-Campbell added: “The industry has spent a lot improving diesel technology. The message we send out is to pick the right technology for your journey and location. If you are driving around town then a diesel is not the right vehicle for you, but for someone doing lots of motorway miles a diesel is absolutely right.”

In the commercial vehicle market almost all vehicles are diesel-powered and van operators could face significant challenges if diesel restrictions go ahead.

“Vans are a challenge for local authorities,” said Crawshaw. “a lot of the time they are smaller operators with low profit margins. Trying to engage with them fully is difficult. We have to accept these smaller sole traders will pass the costs on, because there is not anything else they can do.”

In Bristol, diesel vehicles account for 40% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions across the city, so restricting them is necessary if the council is to achieve the legally mandated NOx limit by 2021.

Crawshaw said: “We need to charge because, although we have been successful in supporting people to switch to newer, more sustainable, modes of travel like cycling, we haven’t been able to reduce A-road traffic. That is because if you take vehicles off the road, it frees up road space and more people find it easier to drive. We need to tackle that demand by imposing some form of fiscal restraint.”

Bristol isn’t one of the five cities originally mandated by Government to introduce a CAZ, but it is drawing up final plans for one and expects to present a full business case to the Government early next year.

Birmingham is the only city so far to submit its final plans for approval. The city is asking for £60 million to implement its CAZ, which will charge the most polluting cars, vans and trucks for entering any roads within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road from January 2020.

Leeds has also finalised its plans, ready for submission, outlining a zone in which lorries, buses and taxis will have to pay to enter if they fail to meet the latest emissions regulations.

London, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Southampton and Manchester are all expected to have restrictions in place in the next two years.



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  • Norman Harding - 23/10/2018 14:17

    We shouldn't be too quick to 'ban' petrol or diesel because they still have potential to become cleaner through further development of the ICE and the fuels potentially becoming cleaner by having the bad chemicals reduced/removed at the refinery or pre-combustion. Furthermore, banning petrol/diesel could kill off the ICE completely and we shouldn't forget that the Dearman engine which effectively runs on air is based on an ICE.

  • Concerned citizen - 23/10/2018 16:13

    Wealthy people have more disposable income, so will find it easier to purchase new petrol engine vehicles. The low income families and small businesses will find it much more financially difficult. Therefore, a diesel an cannot be deemed equitable between different income groups. Anyone trained in economics will recognise that diesel bans, financial penalties in Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones always harm small businesses and those on low incomes excessively and disproportionately.

  • Edward Handley - 27/10/2018 23:27

    Diesel bans are a blunt tool, and like all blunt tools, tend to do more damage than they do good. The latest diesels are remarkably clean, and are much cleaner than many petrol engines, so banning, say, Euro 5 diesels while permitting old petrol engines is ridiculous. It is not just the age of the vehicle which is critical, it is also the way it is driven: Most modern vehicles have stop/start technology but many drivers do not understand the importance of it or "do not like it" so either switch off the system increasing pollution, or leave the vehicle in gear and so prevent it from operating. Cities also need to put their own houses in order. The biggest cause of pollution is congestion but many are obsessed with bus lanes which reserve large portions of the road space for just a few buses an hour, or less in some notable cases, so dramatically increasing congestion. They then have the nerve to blame drivers and businesses who work in their cities for pollution caused by their own flawed policies. It is about time that some Councillors and Council CEOs realised that without businesses and customers that their towns and cities are doomed. Its is not just the internet that is killing our city centres, it is also politically motivated policies that put green painted dogma above commonsense.

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