The Alliance of British Drivers

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London's Low Emission Zone
   Road Safety

The following article was published in April 2006.

London's Low Emission Zone

Earlier this year, we briefly covered the proposals for a “Low Emission Zone” in London. This will attempt to improve air quality by deterring older, more polluting vehicles, from entering any part of the GLA area.  

Only HGVs, LGVs, and buses will be affected, not private cars.  In practice, any older vehicles that do not meet the latest “Euro III” standard by 2008, and the “Euro IV” standard by 2010 will have to pay a hefty fee to enter any of the London Boroughs.  

This matter has now gone to public consultation and you can read the full report and submit comments by going to the following web site: The basic intention of the proposals is to cut the level of PM10 (particulates) and NO2 in the atmosphere. A high proportion of these in the atmosphere come from road transport, particularly diesel engines in the former case. They are also claimed to have negative impacts on health. The report claims that the cost benefits in terms of health would be in the range of £130 to £180 million over the years 2008 to 2015 but does not substantiate that with any figures (Editors Comments: I am exceedingly sceptical that this is the case). 

The scheme would be enforced by a network of cameras, as with the congestion charging scheme, and it will cost approximately £130 million to implement and operate it until 2016. This will of course have to be paid for mainly by Londoners as it is expected to generate less than £50 million in fees and penalties from the vehicle operators.  

In addition, the cost for goods vehicle operators to comply with the scheme, partly to modify their vehicles to cut emissions, will be up to £180 million, which of course they will pass on to their customers. 

Only 5 Years Benefit 

One remarkable comment in the TfL report is this: “Work undertaken by TfL estimates that the introduction of a London LEZ would bring forward by some 4 – 5 years reductions in PM10 emissions in 2010 than would otherwise be achieved under the natural vehicle replacement cycle”. In other words, this enormously expensive project will only expedite improved air quality by about 5 years, because it would improve anyway as older vehicles are replaced. New vehicles must conform to much tighter emission standards so the problem will be much reduced in a few years time.  

Why Such a Complex and Expensive System?  

The report also points out that there are alternative ways of achieving the same results. For example in Sweden there was a proposal to introduce such a system in some of the major cities by simply banning older vehicles from town centres. Alternatively you might choose to bribe people to replace their old cars with new models.

(Editor: Of course once you have this amazingly expensive infrastructure in place, will it ever get dismantled? Probably not because it will provide TfL with a great opportunity to regulate even more of our lives. The following is what I said last time on this subject, and a reading of the report hasn’t changed my views:  As with most of Ken Livingstone’s plans, financial probity seems to have been ignored, and this proposal is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It is certainly a good idea to introduce a low emission zone in those parts of London that are badly affected by pollution from such vehicles, but such areas are relatively small. For example, Bromley has minimal problems in that regard. But to introduce the proposed scheme over the whole of London will be enormously expensive for vehicle operators.  Of course there could be another reason why Ken and TfL are so keen on this scheme. Once the cameras have been installed over the whole of London, introducing a London wide “congestion charging” scheme would be trivial.)  

Trains are the Worst Polluting Transport 

Another recent report on transport pollution was that of a study by Professor Roger Kemp of Lancaster University. It shows that long distance rail travel in the UK is actually one of the worst polluting transport modes, and has actually been getting worse. Heavier rolling stock and higher speeds have been degrading the amount of fuel they use. For example, they calculate a modern London to Edinburgh express train would use more fuel per seat than a modern diesel car, at 11.5 litres. They also apparently use more fuel than a short haul aircraft. Professor Kemp said the rail industry had “taken its eye off the ball” environmentally. 

Incidentally if you think that the above data needs to be adjusted for the fact that most cars only have one occupant, then you need to think again. The average loading (ie. percentage of seats occupied) on long-haul trains is about 20% and London buses are only 16% so it would be wrong to assume that public transport seats are any more occupied than those in private cars. Other studies in the US and Germany have shown the same thing - namely that public transport is not necessarily less polluting or more energy efficient than private transport. This undermines a lot of the government’s rhetoric on national transport policies. 

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