Air Quality in Transport

Author: David Tucker, David Tucker Associates

In response to the Government’s proposals to improve Air Quality and the impact on Transport these are some of the key facts:

  • 29 local authority areas have been highlighted for local AQ action plans. Outside these areas there are no specific actions proposed.

  • The plan floats the idea of restricting older and highly polluting vehicles from entering certain areas at certain times, there are no suggestions on how this will be achieved. This will be left to Local Authorities. Government will set up a Clean Air Fund to support measures to improve highway layout and reduce the need for vehicle restrictions.

  • The most practical way of policing AQ zones is by use of Number Plate Recognition Cameras (NPRC’s). These can only be used to prohibit specific vehicles through the mechanism of fixed penalty charging for violations. The most likely use of NPRCs would be to implement charging in the AQ zones. These charges would be related to the published emission standards for the vehicle.

  • Currently, there is no way to economically retrofit cars and light vans with pre-euro 6 engines to bring them up to Euro 6 standards.

  • The car industry is bringing in various vehicle scrappage schemes. These generally incentivise owners of older cars to trade in for new vehicles.

  • For buses and coaches, evidence shows that Euro VI diesel engines are still the best solution and have superior performance to Euro 6 cars. Euro VI bus engine emissions are almost three times better than Euro 6 car engines (165mg/km for buses compared with 480 – 560 mg/km for cars). Buses and Coaches with pre-Euro VI engines can generally be retrofitted to bring emission standards to Euro VI standards. Government is providing funding for bus retrofit schemes.

  • There are currently no specific proposals to deal with HGVs (the most polluting of vehicles) other than through Air Quality plans.

Polluting vehicles are being targeted as a ‘soft’ option for addressing Air Quality issues whereas in reality air quality is affected by many of the day-to-day activities of modern life. Furthermore, the pollution levels from vehicles are naturally reducing in any event as older vehicles are replaced by those with modern low emission engines.

Whilst there is clearly an urgent need to improve air quality any solution must recognise, particularly in the short to medium term, the importance of diesel vehicles to many people, including a number of small businesses, and the cost of vehicle replacement. To achieve this the following actions should be taken:

  • Encourage people to upgrade to more modern low emission vehicles through initiatives such as vehicle scrappage schemes but not ‘outlaw’ older vehicles.

  • Require manufacturers to ensure current Euro 6 engines actually meet their theoretical standards

  • Provide funding support for bus retrofit schemes.

  • Set up a system whereby essential users, including small businesses, can apply for an exemption to changes or exclusion from Clean Air Zones on specific vehicles. This can easily be done through DVLA and managed via Number Plate Recognition technology.

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