Wanted: a bold response to air quality threat

The delay to the Government's response to the High Court ruling on air quality is a pity. Though the official line is that it has been delayed because of the election, it is a missed opportunity for the Government to take a firm stance on air quality and show leadership.

It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that it has been viewed as a bad news story rather than an opportunity to take immediate action to tackle the harmful emissions from diesel vehicles that have become a public health emergency.

Clean air zones are likely to be created in most urban areas. It is crucial that buses are viewed as an integral part of the solution to air quality challenges rather than just a problem.

The research I carried out for Greener Journeys showed that in terms of value for taxpayers' money, retrofitting buses offers 15 times more value than a diesel car scrappage scheme, and that a scrappage scheme for buses offers 11 times more value than the diesel car option. Yet all the talk in the media relates to diesel car scrappage.

It's crucial that the policy on clean air zones is based on hard evidence rather than political expediency. So far the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has focused on buses, lorries and vans when recommending charging off ending vehicles for entry to the zones. However, if you look at the evidence, NOx per passenger journey is 10 times as high for the latest Euro 6 diesel car as the latest Euro VI bus.

There is much the car manufacturers can learn from the success that has been achieved by UK bus manufacturers in cutting emissions, and in robust testing which gives everyone confidence in their forecasts. It should also be remembered that 80% of new buses are manufactured in the UK compared with only 13% of cars.

If buses are seen as integral to the solution to poor air quality then we will focus on policies to achieve modal shift from the car and tackle congestion. Congestion and pollution are inextricably linked. In nose-to-tail traffic, tailpipe emissions are four times as high as in free-flowing traffic. Research by Professor Peter White of the University of Westminster shows that effective bus priority can produce 75% less emissions per passenger km for bus passengers compared with car passengers.

If we are bold and visionary we can create urban centres which are clean and vibrant and attractive for people to shop, work and socialise in. This will only happen if we prioritise sustainable transport and achieve a modal shift from the car.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has made tackling unacceptable levels of air pollution his number one priority. He has shown leadership. His proposals for a geographically extended ultra-low emissions zone are commendable.
He must follow this up with radical measures to tackle congestion, and the Government needs to come up with a coherent strategy to tackle congestion and air quality.

Reference: Transport Times May 2017 Issue

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