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London Mayor: I feel sorry for diesel drivers

Boris Johnson appears at Environmental Audit Committee and unveils proposals to tackle road transport emissions in capital

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said he “feels sorry” for diesel drivers who could be forced to pay higher charges to travel in London under his planned Ultra Low Emission Zone from 2020.

Appearing today (September 10) in front of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to give evidence as part of its inquiry into air pollution in the UK, Mr Johnson defended his policies for tackling air pollution in the capital, while his office also published a series of proposals for tackling road transport emissions.

Boris Johnson gave evidence in front of the Environmental Audit Committee today (September 10)

Boris Johnson gave evidence in front of the Environmental Audit Committee today (September 10)

Referring to past government incentives to purchase diesel vehicles in order to cut carbon emissions – which had an adverse effect on nitrogen dioxide emissions – Mr Johnson told the Committee: “I feel sorry for them [diesel drivers]. It is a massive failure of government policy. Millions of people were told that they were doing a decent thing by buying a diesel vehicle.”

And, defending once again his decision to implement the ULEZ in 2020 despite calls for it to come into force earlier, he said: “You have got to be reasonable and fair to people who are buying vehicles now. And they will be very aggrieved if they are told they are going to face an extra charge to go through the centre of London. And you also need to take account of where the industry is.”

He added later: “ULEZ depends, I am afraid, on the efficacy of the Euro 6 standards. They have really got to work this time.”

The Mayor also commented: “The only way to get to full compliance with the full Directive is through more financial support. There are great things we can do with low carbon vehicles.

“I think people across Whitehall understand that this is an issue people really care about. Now is the time to go for it.”

The Mayor also declined to be fitted with a personal air pollution monitoring device for a day – something which several members of the EAC recently agreed to do. Mr Johnson said that as he rode his bike most days and the worst exposure to air pollution was found inside cars, there would be little use in being fitted with a personal monitoring device.

Transport Roadmap

During his appearance at the EAC, the Mayor’s office also published its Transport Emission Road Map, which sets out how London could meet EU legal limits by 2020 ‘as long as the European Commission and government commit to match the Mayor’s ambitious policies’.

The Roadmap calls on the government to amend fiscal incentives, launch a nationwide diesel vehicle scrappage scheme and to support more sustainable modes of transport.

It follows Mr Johnson’s previous calls for offering between £1,000 and £2,000 grants per vehicle to scrap the most polluting diesel cars which are more than 12 months old, describing the idea as “a brilliant opportunity to support the British car industry and promote the early uptake of ultra low emission vehicles”.

It also sets out proposals for a Low Emission Neighbourhoods initiative, where new technology will be used to switch zero-emission capable buses and taxis into their zero-emission electric mode in order to cut emissions.

And, in London, the Roadmap also proposes to tighten the standards for the London-wide Low Emission Zone from 2025.

AMEC study

A study commissioned by Mr Johnson comparing 36 world and European cities based on pollutants such as particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was also published today by the Mayor’s office.

Carried out by consultancy AMEC, the Mayor said the study was peer-reviewed by ‘prominent air quality experts and academics’ and developed three indices ranking cities based on citywide emissions, transport-focused emissions and using a health-weighted index.

This study, according to the Mayor’s office, found that London ranked 9th on the health impacts index, 15th on the city wide index and 17th on the traffic-focused index.

Vancouver in Canada was found to have the best air quality, while Cairo in Egypt and Mumbai in India were rated the worst. The best air quality in the EU was found in Stockholm, according to the study.

Commenting on the study results, Professor of Air Pollution Studies at Imperial College London (and also member of the Davies Commission Expert Advisory Panel), Helen Apsimon, said: “It is good to see a systematic comparison of air pollution monitoring data assembled for different cities both in the EU and worldwide. The resulting ranking clearly shows that London is not the best or worst of the cities compared, but lies somewhere in the middle of the European cities.”

Boris Johnson said: “I hope the committee today can see in London we are doing everything in our power to address air quality and with the support of government and the EU, we can accelerate the pace to meet legal limits for NO2 and ensure Londoners live in a healthy, thriving environment. Our efforts have already been recognised in a newly published study, which has ranked London’s air quality 9th best out of 36 world and European cities.”

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