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Two-thirds of London electric car charging points go unused

Many of London’s electric car charging units are going unused from month to month, official data suggests.

Figures for June 2014 show that of the 905 units across the capital, only 324 were used (36%). The remaining 581 were not plugged into at all.

By way of comparison, in June 2013 there were 892 charging units in London and during that month a quarter (24.3%) were used.

The data shows that there were 504 units which went unused in both June 2013 and June 2014.

However in June 2014 there were a total of 4,678 charging sessions, more than double the 2,243 figure a year earlier. This reflects the quickening take up of electric cars of which there are now about 16,000 in Great Britain.

The RAC Foundation analysed data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from Transport for London (TfL). Until September 2014 TfL operated the Source London network of electric charging points in the capital. Since then it has been operated by the Bollore Group.

The analysis also shows that 80% of all charging takes place in inner London even though only 46% of the charging network is in this area.

The most heavily used charging unit was at Victoria Station. It recorded 302 charging sessions in June 2014.

This was followed by two units in Hinde Street, W1 (114 and 113 charging sessions respectively).

In the same month the average length of charging session across all units in London was five hours and 35 minutes.

The encouraging news is that electric car sales in the UK are at last showing signs of improvement, but we still have a charging network that is running far from capacity.

The Mayor of London has committed to rolling out another 4,500 charging points over the next three years, on the way to meeting his ultimate target of 25,000, yet official data shows the bulk of the units we already have are significantly underused.

One reason for this could be the large number of units that appear broken. A glance at the Source London website suggests around a third of charge points are out of service, so you couldn’t charge your car from them even if you wanted to. Before we splurge money on more units we must ensure the existing network is fully operational and accessible.

Hopefully our analysis will give an indication of where further money should be spent and where extra infrastructure might be needed.

It should be noted that many units have more than one socket as in June 2014 there were 1,410 sockets recorded in London.

Half (49.5%) of the Source London network of charging units are in off-street locations such as NCP and supermarket car parks.

(Note: a charging unit could have more than one socket.)

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The dirtiest diesels will have to pay £12.50 to enter central London under plans unveiled by Transport for London.

The fee would be in addition to that levied for entering the congestion charge zone.

TfL has launched a consultation on the ultra-low emissions zone proposals which, if passed, would operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and come into operation on 7 September 2020.

From that date diesel cars will need to conform to the latest Euro 6 emission standards which all cars sold after 1 January 2015 will have to meet.

Petrol cars will have to comply with older 2006 Euro 4 standards.

TfL gives this explanation for the need of the ULEZ.

“London’s air quality has improved significantly in recent years and is now considered compliant for all but one air pollutant for which the European Union has set legal limits. This pollutant is nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which has impacts on public health. London is currently in breach of legal limits. An equivalent of 4,300 deaths in London is attributed to air quality related illness. The Capital also faces challenging targets to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

In the consultation TfL made a prediction about how much NOx each category of vehicle would produce in 2020:

TfL air quality consultation

Chart source: TfL consultation.

 

Responding to the consultation, Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“We welcome this measure to tackle poor air quality.

“What drivers want is certainty and time to react to rule changes. These proposals offer both. But by TfL’s own admission, taxis, freight vehicles and its own buses will pose as big a problem as private diesel cars. The Mayor’s challenge will be to win over businesses to these plans.

“A major question is whether the latest new vehicle emissions standards live up to expectations. Previous Euro standards have looked good in the lab but have not delivered on the road.

“Where Boris leads others are likely to follow. Town and city halls across the country will look to London to see how these proposals work and be asking whether they should be doing the same thing.”

Earlier in 2014 the RAC Foundation published a report by environmental consultants Ricardo AEA summarising the air quality problems caused by road transport and how they might be tackled.

The Foundation suggested that a scrappage scheme be considered to take some of the older, most polluting diesels off the road, something the Mayor of London has also called for.

 

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Almost 1.4 million new cars registered in Great Britain in 2013 paid nothing in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) in their first year on the road.

This is almost two-thirds (63%) of the total of 2.2 million new cars registered.

The cars were exempt from VED because they emitted less than 131gCO2/km and fell into VED bands A-D.

In the first year on the road any vehicle that meets this target is zero rated for VED.

Things change from year two onwards when only those vehicles emitting less than 101gCO2/km (Band A) are completely exempt from VED.

However this still means that – assuming the rules stay the same – 324,000 cars bought last year will never be liable for VED.

This is a table of the VED bands and registration figures for each band for 2013.

VED Band CO2 Emissions Cars registered in 2013
A Up to 100g/km 324,000
B 101-110g/km 272,000
C 111-120g/km 430,000
D 121-130g/km 370,000
E 131-140g/km 301,000
F 141-150g/km 182,000
G 151-165g/km 153,000
H 166-175g/km 63,000
I 176-185g/km 33,000
J 186-200g/km 35,000
K 201-225g/km 18,000
L 226-255g/km 20,000
M Over 255g/km 10,000
TOTAL   2.2 million

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Ministers should consider introducing a new scrappage scheme aimed at taking the oldest and most polluting diesel cars off the road.

Over the past two decades consumers have increasingly been buying diesels because of the better fuel consumption they achieve compared to petrol powered cars.

On a like for like basis diesels also emit fewer CO2 emissions.

This shift in buying habits means that of the 28 million cars on the road today, 10 million are diesels. In 1994 there were just 1.6 million diesels.

However diesel cars have historically tended to emit significantly more particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) than petrol cars both of which are linked to poor air quality and health issues. It is estimated that in the UK poor air quality currently reduces average life expectancy at birth by six months.

Over recent years so-called Euro standards have helped achieve significant reductions in PM emissions from diesels. However these have not been matched by falls in NOx. Only now does the latest set of standards – Euro 6 – offer the prospect of a reduction in this too.

But because cars have an average life span of more than a decade it will take several years for the newer, cleaner, models to work their way through the fleet.

Meanwhile drivers of the oldest vehicles may face increasing restrictions on their use.

A new report for the RAC Foundation by the environmental consultants Ricardo-AEA says there is an argument for discriminating against the highest emitting diesel vehicles in favour of other, less polluting, vehicle technologies. For example this could mean differential pricing in the London Congestion Charging Zone.

Many people believed that by buying diesels they would get better fuel consumption and help fight global warming through low CO2 emissions.

But such was the focus on the planet that policy makers missed the impact older diesel models in particular have on health in urban areas.The car industry has risen to the challenge of cleaning up diesel engines but we still need to deal with the legacy of the dirtiest diesels.

To hasten the take up of cars with the healthiest credentials ministers should consider another scrappage scheme. If they do not local politicians across the country will increasingly take matters into their own hands and restrict the movement of those vehicles which most compromise our well being.

You have to ask: if it is important to promote the take up of electric vehicles through the plug-in car grant scheme then shouldn’t government money also be made available to speed up the cleansing of the fleet in air quality terms?

According to the Ricardo-AEA report, “transport contributes some 30% of total nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and 20% of total PM emissions, but these are mostly concentrated on the road network in towns and cities where the majority of air quality limit breaches occur and where the population density is often high.”

The report also notes that EU limits on air quality-related emissions are much less stringent than those used by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Under the tighter WHO guidelines more than nine out of ten (91-96%) of people living in urban areas would be classed as being exposed to excess levels of the smallest type of particulates (PM2.5) which can get deep into the lungs.

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By Scott Le Vine

(Imperial College London and trustee of the shared-mobility NGO Carplus)

Unusual atmospheric conditions have led to major air quality problems in Paris, with particulate-matter readings so high that drastic measures have been taken to reduce road traffic.  Public transportation was free this past weekend (even bikesharing and the electric-carsharing system Autolib), and an odd/even licence-plate scheme was brought in to limit the number of cars and lorries (trucks) on the road.  Among other factors contributing to the crisis is the prevalence of diesel-powered cars in France, which are more damaging in terms of particulates than petrol (gasoline) engines.

The blog-o-sphere is alight with thoughts on how the crisis was handled (past tense – for now pollution readings are improving) but I have seen little about the role of smart technology in a 21st Century air quality transportation crisis.

In this short piece, I focus on the odd/even licence-plate ban in Central Paris – in principle this restricts the number of cars circulating on the streets by half.  The classical set of responses to such a classical type of transport policy (I and most readers were not born yet when the first odd/even ban was implemented) are well-established – a shift towards non-car forms of transport, some degree of non-compliance, if it drags on some people eventually buy second cars (typically older and more polluting) with the ‘right’ licence plate, etc.

But “classical responses” don’t necessarily hold in the Age Of The Smartphone – we constantly hear “there’s an app for that” – so what’s the app here?

Putting aside the issues of commercial-vehicle traffic, the most structural disruption is to the lifestyles of people that are the most car-dependent.  Some people drive despite there being pretty decent alternatives that can also provide access to the times/places that they go.  But other people drive because they believe they have little in the way of alternatives – they’re “car-dependent”, or at least that’s how they see themselves.  Of course others will retort that no one should be organizing their lives with such a heavy dependence on a single form of transport, but the reality is that they have done precisely this, they do it because it provides substantial benefits to them and their family, and they will not take kindly to being coerced out of their cars.  I’m not taking an ideological perspective here of whether this is good or bad – that’s a much broader discussion.  But it’s the reality.

Therefore I think it’s beyond debate that, when an odd/even licence plate ban is implemented, there’s great value (£££/$$$) to be unlocked by flexibly matching “car-dependent” drivers with other cars that have the “right” licence plate for any given day.

Time was that to deliver this service you’d have to own a fleet of cars, and you could then rent them out on an alternating-day basis to drivers in need.  If you do it right, and the ban persists, it might conceivably be a profitable business.

But that’s so 20th Century – today all that’s required to match drivers with cars is an app.  You’d need a virtual marketplace that matches between these groups on a short-term, flexible basis.  And you’d need an insurance product that lets person ‘A’ rent their car to person ‘B’ for a day without worrying whether they’d be liable in case person B damages it (or damages something or somebody else with it).  How much would “car-days” be transacted for?  That’s a matter for supply and demand to sort out.

Now that I’ve spelled it out, you’ve probably cottoned that this type of app-centric network already exists – we know it as peer-to-peer carsharing, and France is undisputedly one of the world leaders.

So those are my two cents on Paris’ air quality crisis – vive l’autopartage P2P.  Would this be a good thing?  That’s an interesting discussion, let’s pick it up in the comments section.  But if the authorities decide it’s not a good thing, what’s the recourse — ban P2P carsharing?  Have the NSA disable the app for the duration of the crisis?  Require that cars can only be driven by the registered owner – if so how would that possibly be enforced – not by police looking at licence plates on radial roads, as Paris did, that’s for sure.

Scott Le Vine, AICP is a research associate in transport systems at Imperial College London and a trustee of the shared-mobility NGO Carplus, which serves as the UK’s shared-mobility trade body. He authored the RAC Foundation’s 2012 study Car Rental 2.0: Car club [carsharing] innovations and why they matter.  This post is cross-posted at the www.racfoundation.org and www.planetizen.com.

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Today the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders published the thirteenth edition of its new car CO2 report.

The Good News

Yet again the industry has made great progress in cutting CO2 emissions in all vehicle classes: average emissions are now at 128.3 g/km, already below the European target of 130 g/km by 2015.

On the face of it this is good news for the economy and drivers as it saves them money through lower fuel bills. It is also good for the environment and it means that government is actually on its way to meeting its climate change targets. In fact, passenger vehicle emissions reductions are making such great strides that they are outperforming the Committee on Climate Change’s trajectories and scenarios.

The Challenges

There are, however, a number of challenges which need to be overcome if we are to be truly on track to meeting our obligations. The first is that we are actually buying bigger and heavier cars (which is confirmed by the most recent European Environment Agency report on progress towards meeting the CO2 targets). While the share of mini and supermini cars is increasing, so is that of bigger and multi-purpose cars. The middle is being squeezed out.

We need to be careful that when we come out of the recession we don’t all just go back to buying big cars. Julia King in her seminal report on low-carbon cars said that if all of us bought best-in-class vehicles we could reduce emissions by 25% overnight. It is therefore encouraging to see that 3 out of the top 20 models are non-plug-in cars with emissions approaching the government’s definition of ultra-low-emission vehicles (75 g/km).

The second challenge is the discrepancy between ‘official’ and on-the-road emissions and fuel economy figures, which has actually been increasing over the years (International Council on Clean Transportation). This is particularly so for cars in the smaller and supposedly ‘greener’ segments. The problem is that this erodes consumer trust in vehicle manufactures and it also means that the government’s climate change ambitions are undermined because all the targets are based on ‘official’ data which underestimate the climate change impact.

We accept that any kind of test cycle on which the figures are based is ever only going to be exactly that, and that it must be repeatable and robust. But we can all agree that change needs to happen. The question is when: the latest proposals are to introduce the new test cycle and procedure (Worldwide harmonized Light-duty Test Procedure) by 2017 – we support this, but recognise that the adaptation of the 2020 target must be carefully thought through.

Lastly, there is the issue of air quality. The focus on climate change over the years has brought about a dieselisation of the vehicle fleet. While this is great for cutting CO2 emissions and fuel consumption, it has been bad news for air quality, particularly NOx emissions, which can cause or certainly exacerbate respiratory illnesses. It is very important that the UK and the industry get their act together in terms of air quality as the European Commission recently started official infringement proceedings against the UK for failing to meet the EU’s air quality targets.

The Solutions?

To overcome the above challenges, I would like to see the following changes:

  1. Stronger incentives for low-emission cars: Under the current Vehicle Excise Duty (‘car tax’) system, the incentive to go for the lowest CO2-emitting cars is weak. What we would like to see are more tiered/graded incentives – much like a ‘feebate’ scheme (low-emission cars receive rebates, high-emission cars pay fees) – which provide stronger incentives to buy best-in-class, and disincentives for the highest-emitting vehicles. The success of feebate schemes is evidenced by the French ‘bonus-malus’ system which was so successful that the government had to revise the system after the first year or two as it was losing money.
  2. Revision of the test cycle: We would like to see a revision of the current test cycle and procedure (New European Drive Cycle) to the new Worldwide harmonized Light-Duty Test Cycle and Procedure (WLTC/P). This will (hopefully) bring on-the-road emissions closer to test cycle results. We recognise that the 2020 CO2 target will have to be adapted so the goal post isn’t moved last minute for manufacturers.

  3. Accelerated turnover of the diesel fleet: The emphasis here is (or should be!) on ‘low-emission’ vehicles, not merely ‘low-carbon’ vehicles. We would like to see an accelerated turnover of older (Euro 2, 3 and 4) diesel vehicles as it is these that are responsible for much of the problem to do with air pollution. This could be achieved through a scrappage or loan scheme, which might be worth considering as part of the government’s proposals to invest a further £500 million into ultra-low emission vehicles.
  4. An ambitious but feasible new car CO2 target for 2025 (and beyond): This will provide certainty to industry,  save drivers money, reduce oil dependency, and make sure that Europe, and particularly the UK, remain the global leader in green vehicles which will attract investment and jobs. Our research, Powering Ahead, suggests that this should be of the order of 60 to 70 g/km.

We very much look forward to seeing the industry continue to make great progress in the coming years.

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Much is being made by FairFuelUK (and others) of the link between lower fuel duty rates and boosts to the economy. Indeed FairFuelUK have commissioned their own research into the subject which they have put before ministers.

Of course ministers – particularly those at the Treasury – are already more than familiar with this link. It is a mantra that has been repeated several times by the HMRC in the Fuel Duty Rates briefing that gets published after each fiscal statement. This, for example, was taken from the note which followed the 2011 Budget when there was a cut to fuel duty:

“Fuel is a major business input for the UK economy. The reduction in duty will reduce costs for business; as such it is expected that this measure will have a positive impact on GDP.”

The sharp-eyed will spot something else the note says:

“As a result of this lower price, fuel consumption and the number of miles driven will increase and the incentive to improve fuel efficiency will be weaker.”

The last point of that sentence sounds worrying. But is it? For the consumer rising fuel costs will lead to less driving, smoother driving and, in time, a move to more fuel efficient cars. There is no denying there is a link between fuel prices and usage, though in the short term this is inelastic. However, doesn’t the drive to green the car fleet come more from legally binding carbon emission targets (backed up by a sliding scale of purchase taxes dependent on a vehicle’s carbon credentials) than pump prices?

The way the industry has reacted to the challenge of making cars less polluting is encouraging and there is every reason to think the vehicle fleet can be effectively cleaned up while still maintaining mobility. Manufacturers are well on the way to meeting the 2015 emissions target of 130gCO2/km for the average new car. Indeed several – including Audi, BMW, Toyota and Volvo – have met it already (the cynical might say the target was actually too easily achievable and should have been more challenging). This has been accompanied by a circa 30% improvement in fuel efficiency over the past decade. Looking further ahead, the target for 2020 is 95gCO2/km.

Keeping fuel affordable clearly risks adding to congestion and won’t assist the Chancellor as he attempts to balance the books as hydro-carbon tax income falls – road user charging anyone? – but as George Osborne’s own conclusions show, there are very good reasons for the economy in keeping the lid on the rate of fuel duty.

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