London's low emission zone one step closer
Plans to control the level of pollution pumped out by diesel vehicles in the capital came closer to realisation this week.The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, announced he had considered the responses to the public consultation on the proposed Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and would make recommended changes to his transport and clean air strategies to prepare the way for the introduction of the scheme.
"The main driving force behind the concept of the LEZ was the consequences [of poor air quality] for human health," said the Mayor.
"Here in this city we have the worst air quality anywhere in Britain...maybe the worst of any large city in Western Europe."
Apart from the social and environmental obligation to address the situation, European directives meant London had to do something about its air quality or face penalties, said the Mayor.
Unlike the congestion charge, which only applies to the city center, the LEZ will cover the whole of Greater London - almost everywhere within the M25 orbital motorway.
It will also differ from the C-Charge in that it will run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year rather than during peak working hours.
From 2008 diesel heavy good vehicles weighing in at over 12 tonnes, coaches and buses failing to meet a minimum pollution standard will have to pay a £200 charge and repeat offenders will face fines of up to £1,000.
The fines are deliberately high to encourage those using aging commercial vehicles to replace them with cleaner, newer models or install tailpipe solutions such as particulate traps.
While HGVs look set to be affected within two years, smaller vehicles such as minibuses, vans and trucks under 12 tonnes will have longer to prepare for the charge and could be given as long as four years to adapt.
There are currently no plans to include private diesel cars in the LEZ scheme but it is hoped plans to reduce charges for cleaner vehicles entering the congestion charge zone will encourage motorists to consider the environmental implications of their traveling habits and purchasing choices.
The system will work by installing CCTV cameras on roads entering the city and check registration plates against the DVLA database which will record emissions during the annual MoT test.
The Mayor accepted that in an international city like London, where foreign freight vehicles and coaches of visiting tourists are a part of daily life, there might be those who managed to slip under the radar initially.
"This is the same problem we have with the congestion charge - it is difficult to pursue people whose vehicles are not registered in this country," he told edie.
"But we're not going to allow the fact that there are many freight vehicles coming into London from other countries prevent us from going as far as we can with this for the time being.
He said London had had some limited success pursuing those driving vehicles registered in other countries for non-payment of the congestion charge but accepted there were legal, and practical, obstacles in the way of recovering all the money owed, citing a German law which forbids the state from keeping records of private vehicle ownership as an example.
Initially those exceeding the limits could still be fined, he said, and once the scheme was up an running it would be possible to look into more serious disincentives such as impounding the vehicles of persistent offenders.
Michel Dix, Transport for London's director of the Low Emission Zone, explained why the scheme not be using roadside monitoring equipment and would rely on cameras and the accuracy of the DVLA database.
"There will be cameras on all the main entry roads to London, but not every single road," she told edie.
"However, there will be mobile units that will be moved from road to road so if people think that if they switch to a road that doesn't have a fixed camera they will be able to escape detection they are mistaken.
She said there had been trials of pollution monitors that took readings from every vehicle that passed but it had not turned out to be an efficient way to run the system.
"The number of people they observed [that exceeded pollution limits] was minuscule compared to the volume of traffic," she said.
"This is the most cost effective way of enforcing compliance."
She said relying on the database did mean using figures from annual tests - which was already in place - and accepted vehicles emissions might have risen over the twelve months between tests.
The Mayor added: "The proposed Low Emissions Zone is the most effective way of quickly reducing pollutants that are among the most harmful to human health.
"It will make London one of the first cities in the world to have taken such a radical step to tackle air pollution and safeguard our environment."
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