Sunday, October 23, 2011

Low Emissions Zone - Don't Breathe Easy Just Yet

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.


  1. This is an interesting point - I know someone who lives up near harrow with a mercedes van that does 10 miles/day weekdays and more on holiday. It may be below the eurocap 3 guidelines, but its pollution/day is minimal compared to taxis that do hundreds of miles/day and sit with their engines turned on when not moving.

  2. There is another way how the strategy makes sense: it "boosts" the economy. You need people to apply the glue, monitor it sticks properly, buy/rent the equipment, manufacture the glue, research new and more efficient glues, and so on and so forth.

    Then few years later when you learn the long term benefit is about as good as digging a hole to put the dirt dug up from your previous hole there's someone else in the office to worry about it.

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  4. Didn't Boris 'bullshit' Johnson claim that the pollution was blown-in from the continent?

    Well you can see whether BOJO was telling the truth:
    3-D Map of Air Pollution in London
    Select Nitrogen Dioxide
    Select year = 2010

    And hey presto BoJo was right, [or perhaps not]! The pollution that blew across the channel from the continent has cunningly traced-out the road network! ;-)

  5. It's worth pointing out here that the Taxi drivers are powerless to choose greener vehicles, as TFL do not allow them to. It is TFL who set the vehicle reqs. Drivers have to use only approved vevicles. It does not surprise me that TFL have exempted the taxis... The drivers breath too, some of them do quite a lot of breathing. Many would embrace a cleaner option given more choise.

    This is just another example of the confusion of approach within TFL.

    That being said, petrol taxis produce less particles but are more expensive to run. Part of a solution will be customers paying more to reflect the real costs to society of their personal transport decisions.

    Hoping for better


  6. Actually, they are. A modern new diesel well maintained will emit far less PM10s in particular than an older engine. More recently developed engines are also better across the board in terms of emissions of NO2, CO2, etc.

    But have you noticed how many taxis are really ancient and decrepit? How are they still allowed on the roads? Surely MOT standards generally need to be tightened up, perhaps close to Japan's standards where a 5 year old car is unlikely to be able to pass

    There is also the tendenecy of cabbies to leave their engines running permanently.

    Why are cabbies not subject to use of tachographs like HGV drivers are? You could have a record not only of speed etc but also of engine running stationary - any occasion where the engine continues running after more than, say, 2 minutes should attract a heavy fine. The taxi marshalls going around ranks telling drivers to turn off their engines won't achieve anything, but a recording system might.