Clean Air Zones – the alternatives

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) says Clean Air Zones (CAZs) will fail businesses and deliver limited air quality improvements. Natalie Chapman, the FTA’s head of urban policy, writes about what could take their place.

While CAZs differ in detail across the country, the premise remains the same: vehicles which do not meet the prescribed emissions standards – Euro VI or 6 for diesel and Euro 4 for petrol vehicles – will be charged upon entering an applicable town or city.

In some cities, such as Birmingham, all types of vehicles – buses, coaches, taxis, minicabs, HGVs, vans and cars – will be included. In others, such as Leeds, cars will be exempt. Any air quality benefit derived from CAZs will be short-lived, as the Euro VI/6 vehicles required to enter a Zone will come into vehicle fleets of their own accord, as part of the natural fleet replacement cycle.

Euro VI has been mandatory in all new trucks since the beginning of 2014. By the start of 2021, FTA estimates (based on historic fleet turnover patterns) that more than half of the UK truck fleet will already be Euro VI.

CAZs are expensive and time-consuming for local authorities to implement. They also punish the small businesses and individuals who work tirelessly to power the local economy by forcing them to purchase new vehicles ahead of their budgeted renewal cycles.

Instead of investing valuable resources in a short-lived project that will only
dampen regional economic growth and punish those who can least afford to pay, local authorities should look towards longer-term, more sustainable solutions.

In the view of FTA, councils would be better placed to invest their resources in initiatives such as congestion management, retiming deliveries to quieter periods and encouraging businesses to adopt alternative fuels.

Alternative fuels

According to the FTA, the government and local authorities should incentivise the uptake of alternatively fuelled and electric commercial vehicles. From significantly higher purchase costs and uncertainty over residual values, to inadequate charging infrastructure and microconsolidation, there are many issues that need to be addressed before electric vehicles (EVs) can become commonplace on our streets.

Local authorities can help to make electric cars and vans a more viable choice for businesses by: supporting planning applications for EV micro-consolidation centres; ensuring all on-street charging points are accessible and working with electricity suppliers to ensure there is sufficient grid

capacity to support charging infrastructure development, among several other measures. Unlike vans and other light commercial vehicles, fully electric HGVs are not a mass-market solution in the short-to-medium-term, but FTA is working with the government on developing a definition of an Ultra-Low Emission Truck (ULET) which will give businesses, and local authorities alike, assurances on which technology will replace diesel HGVs.

Congestion management

As there is limited space in our towns and cities to build new roads, we need to ensure existing infrastructure is used in the most effective way possible. After all, congestion has a direct impact on fuel consumption and emissions, according to a leading truck manufacturer, stopping three times per mile, and getting back up to 30mph each time, triples emissions compared to just cruising at 30mph.

Reviewing road layouts and traffic signals can significantly help reduce congestion; improving road traffic also means the logistics industry can operate more efficiently, potentially reducing the number of vehicles it needs to deploy.

Retiming deliveries

Retiming freight activity out of the morning peak hours to less congested times in the day, or even overnight, would bring huge benefits to the logistics industry, in the view of FTA. This approach would reduce journey times and fuel consumption, leading to improvements in air quality.

And with fewer lorries on the road during the school rush and other peak times, it would help to protect the most vulnerable road users. This article covers just three suggested alternatives, other measures include consolidation and working in partnership with customers.

According to FTA, these alternative approaches – in place of CAZs – would deliver long-term, ongoing benefits to urban areas. FTA is urging local authorities to contemplate these measures before rushing to adopt a CAZ.

Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods. With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc.

This article featured in the first Air Quality News magazine, which you can read here.