With the launch of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, we look at what is happening north of the border to improve air quality. Scotland’s local authorities are at the frontline of encouraging people out of their cars to walk, cycle or use public transport. One tool local government can use in the fight to reduce vehicle emissions – Low Emission Zones (LEZs). Glasgow’s LEZ for buses launched at the end of 2018. By 2022, it is expected that LEZs will be in full operation in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh. LEZs use financial penalty to encourage people and transport providers to switch to newer, less directly polluting vehicles. The challenge facing local authorities, however, remains how we encourage more people to leave the car at home for everyday journeys, particularly our towns and cities. LEZs are a tool tested across Europe to improve local air quality, but their efficacy in increasing active travel and improving air quality to a standard that improves health is unclear.
The human and environmental cost of outdoor air pollution is stark, with annual deaths estimated to be between 28,000 and 40,000 in the UK. Illness and lost productivity linked to traffic emissions costs the UK economy an estimated £20 billion each year. In Scotland, 2,500 deaths and a shortened average lifespan of 3-4 months are consequences of the air we breathe. Those consequences disproportionately affect children, older people and people with respiratory and cardiovascular illness. Poor air quality has a greater effect on people living on lower incomes. They are more likely to live in high traffic areas, own fewer cars yet experience the worst effects of traffic and air pollution.
What are low emission zones?
Sweden introduced the first LEZ in 1996 and there are now over 200 LEZs operating in 15 countries. LEZs set a minimum emission standard for vehicles entering a defined area. Only diesel vehicles manufactured from 2015 and petrol cars manufactured from 2006 are likely to meet the standards in the UK. The standards are based on Euro emission engine classifications. The use of Euro standards is unlikely to be affected by Brexit as manufacturers will still make vehicles to the same standards.
The DVLA are developing a database for the public to check their vehicle. In the interim, Transport for London have launched a checker. Charges or fines are imposed on non-compliant vehicles entering a LEZ. The types of vehicles affected vary around Europe, but the focus is usually on heavier vehicles, diesel lorries and buses. Methods of enforcement range from ANPR cameras to coloured vehicle stickers monitored by local police. In Hamburg, two streets are heavily restricted with only diesel cars and lorries meeting the Euro 6 standard able to enter. Few existing European LEZs, however, affect private cars. London’s new Ultra Low Emission Zone is an exception rather than the current rule. In Scotland, the government has committed to LEZs affecting both petrol and diesel cars.
LEZs are not implemented in isolation, they are part of wider air quality action plans that seek to reduce emissions from many sources, including industry and homes. Of note is that although many LEZs in Europe were introduced with little public consultation but public compliance and support is generally high. Read the rest of this entry »