Van and taxi drivers offered pathway to electric vehicle transition

Drivers of old and polluting vans and taxis have been offered fast-track options and incentives to purchase electric vehicles (EVs), with revamps to licensing and a new £42m taxi fund set to increase compliance with the diesel vehicle phase-out.

Following on from Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s launch of the Air Quality Plan last week, which included a ban on all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040, both Transport for London (TfL) and the Department of Transport (DfT) have launched new EV initiatives.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced on Friday (28 July) that TfL would host a £42m fund to encourage owners of older and polluting diesel black cabs to retire them from the Capital’s fleet.

Owners of black cabs between 10 and 15 years old can check whether they are eligible of a “delicensing” scheme and to apply for a grant worth up to £5,000 to retire a taxi. The three-year scheme will attempt to speed up the process of tackling the illegal pollution levels in London’s air as part of a long-term goal of making the Capital a zero-carbon city by 2050.

“London’s filthy air is a health crisis that needs urgent action,” Khan said. “The plans announced by the Government this week go nowhere near the action needed. Cleaning up London’s taxi fleet will play a significant part in our toxic air battle and there will be no new diesel taxis licensed in London by the end of this year.

“However, it is important we financially support drivers to help them retire their oldest vehicles and upgrade to greener models. I hope this fund helps deliver a new generation of zero-emission taxis on our roads and paves the way for the Government to offer a diesel scrappage scheme so all London motorists can ditch their dirty diesels.”

From January 2018, no more new diesel taxis will be licensed in London, and the London Taxi Company officially rebranded after unveiling its new electric model. Taxis are thought to be responsible for 16% of NOx and 26% of particulate matter (PM) road transport emissions in central London.

The Government already offers a Plug-in Taxi Grant, part-funded by the Mayor, which offers up to £7,500 for new EV taxi purchases. When combined with the new delicensing payment, drivers can save up to £12,500 on new purchases.

Vehicle ad-van-tage

Van drivers will also be eased into the EV transition, and will be able to switch to electric models without having to fill out extra paperwork. DfT has launched a 12-week consultation to establish new licensing measures that would allow van drivers to operate heavier electric or gas-powered models without applying for a new license.

Currently, a motorist with a category B license for a vehicle can drive a van weighing 3,500kg. New greener vans are expected to weigh more because of their heavy batteries. In order for category B license owners to operate these vehicles, the weight of goods transported would have to be reduced.

But under new DfT plans, motorists would be able to drive vans weighing up to 4,250kg – providing they are powered by electricity, natural gas, LPG or hydrogen – without applying for a category C license.

“Vans have become essential to our economy and are vital for our builders, small businesses and delivery drivers,” Transport Minister Jesse Norman said.

“We have more of them on our roads than ever before. That’s a good sign for the economy, but our challenge is to try to tackle their impact on air quality. We want to make it easier for businesses to opt for cleaner vehicles, and these proposals are designed to do just that.”

The licensing switch is accompanied by the £4m Plug-In Van Grant, a funding avenue for businesses to switch their large trucks and vans to electric models.

In 2016 vans clocked up 49.1bn road miles – an increase of 23% since 2006. Currently, around 96% of vans and trucks are diesel-powered, and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) hopes that extending the scheme will not only increase demand for electric versions, but also encourage new entrants into the market.

Matt Mace

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