A package of measures to improve air quality in London has been launched to cut harmful pollution coming from road transport, benefit Londoners’ health and clean up the city ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The new initiatives, stemming from the Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy and delivered by Transport for London, will deter some of the oldest and most polluting vehicles from driving in the English capital through changes to the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and reforms to taxi licensing standards. Leading health organisations including Asthma UK, the British Lung Foundation and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy have voiced their support for the changes.
Research commissioned by the Mayor’s office has suggested that poor air quality contributes to an equivalent of around 4,300 premature deaths in London annually, with many people, especially children and older people, having their quality of life adversely impacted by it. Londoners also identify improving air quality as one of their environmental priorities. Implementing the measures in the Mayor’s strategy is expected to reduce PM10 emissions (tiny airborne particles generated principally by road transport) in central London by about a third by 2015, compared to 2008 levels. These new measures will play a significant role in the delivery of these targets.
The current Low Emission Zone has been successful in delivering significant reductions in harmful vehicle emissions by encouraging the oldest, most polluting lorries, buses and coaches driving into London to clean up their emissions. Since 3 January 2012, larger vans and minibuses have to meet Low Emission Zone standards for the first time, meaning only cleaner vehicles of this type that meet the Euro 3 emissions standard for particulate matter can drive within Greater London without their owners paying a £100 daily charge or risking a £500 fine. Transport for London figures show that an estimated 94 per cent of the vehicles that will be affected for the first time already meet the new standards.
In addition, vehicles already affected by the Low Emission Zone – lorries, buses and coaches – will now have to meet stricter emissions standards. These vehicles will need to meet a Euro IV standard for particulate matter to drive within Greater London without their owners paying a £200 daily charge or risking a £1,000 fine.
It is expected that collectively these changes to the Low Emission Zone will broadly double the initiative’s current impact on PM10 emissions. Introducing LEZ standards for larger vans and minibuses is estimated to remove around 80 tonnes of PM10 from the air from 2011 to 2015 which is equivalent to giving children with chest complaints over 12,000 days free from suffering symptoms and adults almost 18,000 days.
The introduction of London’s first ever age limit on black cabs from 1 January 2012 means the oldest and most polluting vehicles will no longer be licensed, affecting any vehicle over 15 years old. It is estimated this will affect around 2600 cabs in 2012, around a tenth of the total fleet. The age limit will be introduced on a rolling basis throughout the year as affected taxi licence plates expire. A new taxi emits around 20 times less PM than a 15 year old taxi.
From 1 January, a 10-year age limit for licensed private hire vehicles will also apply to licensed operators.
A no-idling campaign has also been launched. Drivers of all vehicles in London including coaches and buses, will be encouraged to do their bit by turning off their engines when stationary, reducing the amount of unnecessary and harmful exhaust fumes emitted. Turning off an engine and restarting it after a minute or longer causes less pollution than keeping the engine idling and uses less fuel.
Larger vans and minibuses were originally due to be included in the Low Emission Zone from 4 October 2010. However, following public consultation, the Mayor decided to defer the introduction in tough economic times to give the owners and operators of the estimated 70,000 non-compliant vehicles, many of which are smaller businesses and charities, more time to make the necessary changes. There are a range of ways vehicle owners can meet the standards. For many, fitting a filter to their vehicle may be the best option whilst many newer second hand vehicles will also meet the standards. The Mayor has also worked with a range of major manufacturers to secure significant discounts when purchasing new vehicles.