The next phase of London's Low Emissions Zone will start at the beginning of 2012. This was delayed by Mayor Johnson, but the threat of EU action has made the move inevitable.
The current LEZ covers larger commercial vehicles, but 2012 will see the emissions requirements extended to cover smaller commercials. However, it's interesting to see how some vehicles are more equal than others. Older minibuses belonging to schools and charities will fall foul of the rules, no matter how low a mileage they do. Similarly, pickups and vans belonging to businesses in outer London, which may cover few miles and operate away from the worst pollution hotspots, also get caught. Even private camper vans aren't exempt.
Now this would be fair enough if there were a no-exceptions, zero-tolerance attitude to pollution. But taxis - the class of commercial vehicle that is responsible (according to TfL) for 30% of central London's particulate emissions - are exempt. This is a bit of a choker for small businesses and charities that need vehicles but don't drive huge mileages. It's also a bit of a choker if you attend a school in inner London and you suffer from asthma, or if you're one of the estimated 50,000 people who die early as a result of air pollution in the UK.
Boris Johnson's air pollution strategy is simple. Try glueing it to the road, soaking it up with plants; anything rather than reduce it at source by forcing the taxi industry to clean up its tailpipe emissions, or by promoting alternatives to motor traffic.
Johnson said in answer to Jenny Jones' questions about the use of dust suppressants around air pollution monitoring stations, "It makes sense to deal with the [pollution] hotspots". This is nonsense. It's Johnson's attempt to dodge EU fines without dealing with the main underlying problem - too many high-emitting vehicles. People don't die from air pollution only near the monitoring stations. The high numbers from the monitoring stations simply give a picture of what emissions are like all over London. It's not like the monitoring stations are the only places to worry about, and 50 yards away the air is like a forest glade and vehicle exhausts are purer than a mountain stream. If the taxi fleet is emitting large amounts of particulates, then no matter where you happen to be, when a taxi accelerates past you, you'll get a couple of lungfuls of dirt.
The only way that Boris Johnson's air pollution strategy makes sense is if you consider that dead people don't vote, but taxi drivers do.