Posts Tagged ‘Air quality’

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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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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On Monday 6 January 2014 the Highways Agency published a public consultation on introducing a maximum mandatory speed limit of 60 mph on the 34-mile stretch between M1 Junctions 28 and 35a. The rationale behind the proposal is to contain possible future rises in air pollution, notably nitrous oxides (NOx) – a response to tightening air quality targets from the EU. Failing to meet the targets could lead to heavy fines from the European Commission.

Reducing motorway speeds from 70 mph to 60 mph potentially has several effects:

  • It reduces air pollution (in this case NOx) by about 20–25% as the following graph shows:
NOx emissions for a Euro 5 Diesel < 2.0 L car (g/km)

NOx emissions for a Euro 5 Diesel < 2.0 L car (g/km)

Source: National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory

  • By the same token, it reduces CO2 emissions and fuel consumption, which saves drivers money.
  • It potentially increases journey times which would result in economic loss, particularly if the affected traffic is moving goods and services. However, this could be negated if as a result of the reduction in speed the traffic runs more smoothly.
  • It potentially reduces the risk of collisions if the traffic runs more smoothly and reduces their severity.

There will be confusion amongst some drivers as to what ministers’ position is on motorway speed limits. After all this government had widely talked up the possibility of raising the limit to 80 mph in places while here the debate is all about cutting it.

The consultation comes at the same time as news from the Society of Motor Manufacturer and Traders (SMMT) that UK car sales in 2013 jumped 10.8% on the year before to reach pre-recession levels – 2.264 million cars. Looking at the composition of the fleet it is interesting to note that the share of mini and supermini as well as dual purpose has increased, while that of lower and upper medium cars has decreased.

Car registrations by segment type

Source: SMMT

This should help with emissions as cars in these segments tend to consume less fuel.

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The Chinese authorities have announced some fairly drastic new measures limiting car use in the capital, Beijing, such that only half of the four million private cars in the city will be allowed on the roads on days when the air quality is particularly poor. Under the new measures, a ‘traffic light’ system will be introduced to categorise air pollution, a large proportion of which is derived from motor vehicles in many modern cities, and, when the traffic lights ‘turn red’, only cars with licence plate numbers ending in an odd number will be allowed on the roads, with even number-ending plates taking the hit the next time air quality dips below the relevant threshold.

These are not the first restrictions affecting car drivers in Beijing, however. The city first introduced some rationing of road space in 2008 when it hosted the Olympic Games, and this proved so effective at improving air quality (and also, incidentally, if not surprisingly, reducing traffic congestion) that a modified version of the restriction was made permanent in October 2008, with 20% of the vehicles being banned from use on a given weekday since then. The number of private cars on the roads of the Chinese capital has risen by almost three quarters of a million in the five years since then, however, which is presumably one of the main drivers (sorry!) of the new regulations.

Beijing is by no means the first world city to have introduced ‘licence plate lottery’ limitations on when private cars can be driven, however, with numerous large Latin American cities (such as Sao Paulo in Brazil, Santiago in Chile and Mexico City) having introduced similar schemes in the 1990s and 2000s. Over in Europe, meanwhile, Athens has a scheme in place (and anecdotal evidence suggests that any motorist who could afford to bought a run-down second car with an ‘appropriate’ licence plate when the scheme was introduced so that he could effectively drive whenever he wanted to, after a few seconds work with a screwdriver). Paris and New York are both known to have mooted limiting the days when drivers can drive in order to improve air quality but in both cases the plans were dropped for political reasons. With the UK (and many other EU nations) possibly heading towards heavy fines for breaching pollution limits, however, it will be interesting to see if similar proposals to Beijing’s (and Athens’, and Mexico City’s) resurface within the foreseeable future, and then whether it is politically possible to implement them.

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Earlier this month London mayor Boris Johnson’s environment adviser told the London Assembly Environment Committee that the introduction of an ultra-low emission zone in London by 2020 will give vehicle manufacturers a “hefty shove” to improve emission standards. The proposal, first put forward by the mayor in February, would “help the automotive industry to wake up and stimulate growth”, Matthew Pencharz added. “These measures can actually help drive the market – the automotive industry can start producing cars that you will be able to drive in central London after 2020.” The proposals currently on the table could potentially see the zone cover a similar area to the congestion charge zone and have only zero or low emission vehicles driving in central London during working hours after 2020.

Which all sounds very positive, in terms of reducing the air pollution associated with road transport.

But there’s a problem, because ‘emissions’ actually covers far more than what comes out of your exhaust pipe, so no matter how clean your engine is, there will still be pollution associated with driving. “Non-exhaust processes are an important source of particulate matter, constituting approximately 50% of PM10, 25% of PM2.5 and 90% of the coarse fraction (PM coarse) of road traffic emissions,” a TRL report for Defra explains. “The most important sources of vehicle non-exhaust emission were found to be tyre wear, brake wear and road surface wear.”

And unfortunately PM (particulate matter, to give it its full title) produced by tyre wear, for example, is rather nasty stuff.

Particulate matter from tyres, for example, is composed, amongst other things, of zinc, latex rubber, carbon black and polyaromatic hydrocarbons and studies have shown that tyre particulate chemicals are possibly carcinogenic, mutogenic and toxic to lung tissue. Some researchers have also linked airborne ultrafine tyre wear particles that are inhaled into the lungs to a rise in asthma in urban areas.

The scale of the problem should not be underestimated – some sources estimate that poor air quality is a factor in almost 30,000 premature deaths in the UK each year. This figure, if accurate, means that air pollution plays a part in nearly 5% of all annual UK deaths.

Clear engines are manifestly a good thing but even the age of the electric car (if it ever arrives), with zero tailpipe emissions, will not make the pollution problem go away completely. Regenerative braking will help by reducing brake wear. Improvements in tyre technology will also make a difference, of course.

But can anyone out there think of any other way in which this problem might be tackled, we ask?

Or is it really about time someone got around to inventing the hover car?

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