London already has one. Leeds and Birmingham are introducing their own next year, and many other UK cities are planning them. Clean Air Zones (CAZ) are spreading fast and, if they don’t already affect your business, they are likely to within the next few years.
What exactly is a Clean Air Zone?
Simply put, it’s an area where the local authority has introduced measures to improve air quality by reducing vehicle emissions. They come in two basic forms, charging and non-charging. The former penalises the most polluting vehicles financially, whilst the second relies on non-charging measures such as improved road layouts and transport links or simply banning the most polluting vehicles altogether.
The sudden growth in Clean Air Zones being proposed stems from regular breaches of NO2 limits signed up to by the Government back in 2010. The subsequent 2017 Air Quality Plan then directed that the most polluted local authorities were to draw up their own plans for reducing NO2, which included considering the introduction of local CAZ.
Ultra-Low Emission Zones
London has some of the highest levels of NO2 pollution in the country. Accordingly, April 2019 saw the launch of the UK’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).
This means that vehicles must now meet the following minimum emission standards or face additional charges:
- Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles (L category)
- Euro 4 (NOx) for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles
- Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for diesel cars, vans and minibuses
- Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for lorries, buses, coaches and other specialist vehicles
The daily charges are:
- £12.50 for non-compliant taxis, private cars, vans, motorcycles and mopeds (black cabs are exempt)
- £100 for buses and coaches (over 5 tonnes) and HGVs (over 3.5 tonnes)
The ULEZ operates 24 hours a day, every day, and has the same boundaries as the current Congestion Charge (which must also be paid). This replaces the ‘T-charge’ that was introduced in 2017 and, from 2021, it will be extended to the North and South Circular roads.
CAZ around the country
Following London’s lead, several other major cities have had their CAZ plans approved:
- Leeds: From January 2020 most of the area inside the city’s outer ring road will be designated as a CAZ, with charges of £12.50 for taxis and £50 for buses, coaches and HGVs. Private cars, vans, motorcycles and mopeds will initially be exempt.
- Birmingham: From January 2020 there will be an £8 charge for private cars and taxis, whereas buses, coaches and HGVs will incur a £50 levy.
- Bath: From late 2020 taxis will be charged £9, whilst buses, coaches and HGVs will pay £100. There will be no charge for private cars, vans, motorcycles and mopeds.
- Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone (LEZ) came into force in Glasgow last year and was aimed at reducing pollution from the city’s buses. From December 2022 it will be expanded to lorries, vans and private cars.
- Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen are likely to have a LEZ in place by the end of 2020.
Other cities have submitted proposals for charging CAZ that have not yet been approved, these include:
- Greater Manchester: From 2021 there will be a £100 charge for HGVs, buses and coaches, and £7.50 for taxis and private hire vehicles. From 2023, vans and minibuses will be charge £7.50.
- Sheffield: £10 a day for taxis, private hire vehicles and vans and £30 for buses, coaches and HGVs
Southampton is promising a ‘refined set of freight, bus and taxi measures’ and Derby has also decided to go down the non-charging CAZ route. From 2020, York bus operators that do not comply with emission standards will not be able to run services in the area. And in the same year, Oxford is proposing to turn the city centre into a Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZ), banning all non-zero emission vehicles from parking and loading in the city centre during certain hours.
In the longer term, many other cities are known to be considering a CAZ, including Bolsover, Bradford, Bristol, Broxbourne, Cambridge, Cardiff, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Portsmouth, Reading and Stoke-on-Trent.
However, there are a few cities bucking the trend, with Exeter and Nottingham ruling out a CAZ of any kind altogether. Although given what is happening everywhere else, this may only be a short-term measure, with the general picture for the next few years being that many more CAZ will be introduced around the UK.
What about non-standard/specialist fleets?
London’s ULEZ, which is setting the standard for other CAZ, has a limited number of exemptions. These include:
- Agricultural vehicles
- Military vehicles
- Non-road going vehicles which are allowed to drive on the highway (e.g. excavators)
- Certain types of mobile cranes
Thus far, Leeds and other CAZ seem likely to follow similar exemptions.
How can fleet operators respond?
Unless covered by a specific exemption, vehicles which are not emission compliant will face extra charges when travelling through any of the charging CAZ. In the case of London’s ULEZ, this could mean an extra annual cost of up to £3,263 per car or van (based on 261 working days a year), or an eye-watering £26,100 for coaches and HGVs.
Obviously, something needs to be done to prepare for this, but what? Here are a few suggestions which should help your business adapt to the changes.
Keep an eye on where and when a CAZ is planned in your local area or any other locations where your vehicles regularly travel. Your local government website is often a good place to start and is likely to provide information on proposed charges, restrictions and areas covered.
There is going to be a patchwork of different types of CAZ, all with different charges and restrictions, so fleet managers and individual drivers will need to be aware of not just how these charges will be applied but how this could affect their regular routes.
2) Route Planning
It may be possible to reroute some journeys to avoid CAZ. Trip data, such as that provided by telematics, will show a detailed picture of how journeys will be affected by a prospective CAZ. This can also help you calculate how much extra time and fuel it will take to avoid them so that you can make more informed decisions on how best to adapt.
3) Vehicle Choice
Of course, avoiding CAZ will not always be possible, especially as the number of zones and coverage areas increase. The surest way to minimize CAZ charges and restrictions is to operate as many vehicles as possible that meet minimum emission standards. In itself this is a worthy aim, especially given the major health and environmental problems that have prompted CAZ to appear in the first place.
The good news is that, as with London’s ULEZ, future CAZ are unlikely to impose charges or restrictions on coaches and HGVs that meet Euro 6. Cars, vans and taxis that meet Euro 6 (diesel) or Euro 4 (petrol), and ultra-low emission vehicles with a significant zero-emission range will also escape penalties or restrictions.
The final verdict
Whilst it’s true that most CAZ won’t come online until after 2020-21, now is the time to prepare and, given all the other policies being introduced to incentivise cleaner motoring, companies of all sizes should seriously examine the feasibility of hybrid or fully electric vehicles wherever possible.
Of course, not everyone will agree with how and when CAZ are implemented but, despite the extra work and costs entailed, they are better embraced than resented. After all, they’re not just inevitable, they will benefit everyone in the long run.