The postponement of the Leeds and Birmingham Clean Air Zones is an opportunity for them to change for the better in the future, writes Natalie Chapman, head of urban policy at the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
The postponement of Clean Air Zones (CAZs), and other similar air quality schemes, presents an opportunity for national and local governments to pause and assess whether these schemes truly are the most effective way to improve air quality in the long-term, and, with Covid-19 a respiratory illness, the need for clean air is more important than ever so government must get it right.
In the view of FTA, CAZs will not provide any lasting benefit to air quality, as the Euro VI/6 vehicles required to enter a zone without charge will come into fleets of their own accord, as part of the
natural fleet replacement cycle. Euro VI has been mandatory in all new trucks since 2014; by the start of 2021 – when many of these CAZs are due to go live – FTA estimates that more than half of
the UK truck fleet will already be Euro VI, so the scheme will soon become redundant.
Instead, government would be better placed to adopt a more comprehensive range of measures, such as incentivising the uptake of alternatively fuelled and electric commercial vehicles, more effective management of congestion, and enabling more deliveries to be retimed.
It is also important that the government understands the heavy financial toll Covid-19 is having on logistics businesses and revaluates whether introducing such an expensive scheme is affordable in the months after the pandemic, as the economy slowly recovers. CAZs will hit small businesses and specialist operators most – those who can least afford to pay.
Should the schemes proceed in their current format, we are urging government to include an auto- pay function within its central CAZ payment portal; its decision to employ a manual, time-intensive system will place financial hardship and heavy administrative burden upon logistics operators.
As local authorities are already using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology in their administration of penalty fines, we see no reason why this cannot be linked to an autopay system, such as that used to administer the central London Congestion Charge.
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