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Clean air zones: what will they mean for fleets?

Data Blocks
Data Blocks

With London mayor Sadiq Khan set to roll out the introduction of an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in the capital by April 2019, one pressing concern currently facing the fleet sector is that of how it adapts itself to more stringent restrictions on vehicle carbon emissions.

London already has a Low Emissions Zone, established in 2008, but City Hall is looking to bring forward the rollout of the city’s ULEZ. This follows a public consultation in which over 60 per cent of respondents both endorsed the ULEZ in principle and also indicated support for early implementation. In addition, five other UK cities – Derby, Southampton, Birmingham, Leeds and Nottingham – will introduce Clean Air Zones (CAZs) of their own next year. The government’s Clean Air Framework, which outlines its proposals, was published in May 2017.

Needless to say, the impending introduction of these measures is causing some concerns among fleet operators. It isn’t hard to see why. For example, once the new ULEZ is in place, vans, petrol-fuelled cars and minibuses with emissions standards pre-dating the introduction of Euro 4 will have to pay an extra £10 over and above central London’s existing congestion charge. These costs could soon mount up for firms operating fleets in and around the capital. Vehicles meeting Euro 6 standards, however, will be exempt from the additional charge.

The need for action on urban air quality is undeniable. According to a report from the National Audit Office last year, 37 of Britain’s 43 air quality zones are already in breach of European nitrogen dioxide limits – even though they should have been compliant with those limits by 2010. The government has suggested that it could take until 2026 for air quality targets to be met. It is this concern over air pollution in major UK conurbations that has forced the issue up the political agenda.

Furthermore, the government has already signalled its intention to outlaw the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. Vehicle operators should however be aware that this target may be brought forward, as recommended recently by an environmental think-tank.

Of course, London’s ULEZ and the other CAZs are a far more immediate concern. Defra’s own impact assessment, published in 2016, warned that smaller vehicle operators in particular were likely to find that the cost of upgrading their vehicles to meet the new standards has ‘a significant financial impact’. Furthermore, the report warns, this could result in an increase in retail prices as well as some businesses ‘exiting the market’.

Fleet sector representatives are therefore appealing to the government and London’s City Hall to ensure that the introduction of the new measures is consistent and carefully managed, so that vehicle operators can make the necessary adjustments. What’s more, the new ULEZ/CAZ measures are an opportunity to facilitate better, more environmentally-minded conduct from business and individuals alike. It is therefore vital that the government puts the right incentives (including, but not limited to, financial incentives) in place so that all concerned are encouraged to make that transition.

It should be noted also that fleets are already taking active steps to curb their own CO2 emissions. Telematics in particular have radically transformed fleet management software in this area among others, allowing firms to deploy their vehicles more efficiently – reducing fuel usage and with it carbon emissions – and also providing them with finely-detailed insights into the condition of their vehicles as well as the way their drivers behave while behind the wheel. ‘Green telematics’, which remains a growth area, could go on to make a significant contribution to tackling air pollution in the years ahead.

What is indispensable, however, is that the government works closely with vehicle operators to ease the transition to ULEZ and CAZ measures, properly taking account of the financial challenges some of them are likely to face in the process. If this kind of close collaboration becomes a reality, the rewards for everyone – local residents, commuters and businesses alike – could be huge.


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