Could a London levy break diesel domination?

Date: Monday, July 20, 2015   |  

The London Assembly is calling for the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to introduce a £2.50 levy on all diesel vehicles entering central London from next year.

The proposal comes after the Supreme Court ruled in April that new air quality plans must be submitted to the European Commission by December 2015.

“Such a policy would help influence purchasing and driving behaviour far sooner than currently planned by existing polices, so leading to a real improvement in the health and quality of life for Londoners,” says Stephen Knight,” lead Liberal Democrat on the assembly council.

The new air-quality plans will need to include drastic action to cut nitrogen dioxide (NO2 – part of the family of nitrogen oxides or NOx) levels, which many experts blame on diesel vehicles.

Last July, the Government’s updated projections found that just five of 43 cities, towns and zones in the UK would be compliant with European Commission targets by 2015, with 15 by 2020, 38 by 2025 and 40 by 2030.

The EC limit is 40 micrograms NOx per cubic metre. In 2015, it is projected that the Greater London Urban Area will hit 107 micrograms per cubic metre, according to he Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. By 2020, this figure is expected to fall to 79 micrograms per cubic metre.

Greater London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire are the zones not projected to be on target by 2030 and these would  likely be hit with the earliest or most severe measures to cut pollution.

London is already set to introduce an Ultra Low Emission Zone from September 2020. It will require vehicles travelling in the area, which mirrors the congestion charge zone (see map), to meet the new criteria 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or pay a daily charge.

Diesel cars and small vans must be Euro6-compliant and be registered from 1 September 2015 (five years old or less in 2020), while petrol cars and small vans must meet the Euro4 criteria. These vehicles will still have to pay the daily congestion charge, which stands at £11.50 and operates between 7am–6pm Monday to Friday.

Non-compliant vehicles will be allowed inside the zone, but will have to pay a daily charge of £12.50 on top of the C-charge.

Residents living in the ULEZ zone will have a three-year ‘sunset period’ and do not have to comply with the emissions standards until September 2023.

Johnson’s office has previously rejected calls from the Asssembly to introduce the ULEZ ahead of 2020, with the mayor’s spokeswoman claiming: “His world-first Ultra Low Emission Zone is at the heart of the most radical package of measures happening anywhere on the planet to address the issue.”

But Knight is demanding stronger action: “When it [the ULEZ] was first proposed, a complete ban on diesels was proposed, and I still think that should happen,” he tells What Van?

He argues that a gradual increase in the levy price between now and 2020 would encourage people to switch to cleaner vehicles when they next change their vehicle: “I want to gently nudge people in the right direction.”

The SMMT says “blanket measures” penalising diesel vehicles would be unreasonable as the measures fail to take technological advancements into account.

“Diesel powers 99% of commercial vehicles… and it would be unfair to penalise businesses for investing in the latest Euro6 vehicles,” said an SMMT spokesman.

Under Knight’s proposals, Euro6 diesels would still need to pay the levy, which is in contrast to Johnson’s ULEZ plans. However, Knight says he would be up for a debate about whether or not the vehicles should be exempt.

“While being cleaner than Euro5 diesels, Euro6 diesels still produce more NOx than petrol vehicles,” Knight says.

A current London taxi fitted with a Euro5 diesel engine emits 250mg/km NOx, while a Euro6 1.5-litre diesel Ford Transit Custom emits 76.4mg/km NOx.

Despite this, black cabs are exempt from the suggested levy. According to the SMMT, vehicles powered by Euro6 engines produce 0.08g/km of NOx compared with 0.18g/km for Euro5 diesels and 0.25g/km for Euro4 diesels, while Euro3-spec diesels emit 0.5g/km of NOX.

The SMMT claims new vehicles sold in 2014 were typically 19.2% more fuel-efficient than those bought in 2009, while it says that UK NOx levels from light vehicles have fallen by 81% since 1990 – the biggest reduction of any sector.

However, Knight also suggests the vehicle taxation system should be changed to reflect a vehicle’s NOx emissions as well as the current CO2 emission-based system.

“The Government needs to drive down the CO2… further, and it needs to use those levers to tackle NOx emissions too,” he concludes.


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