Wednesday 23 October 2019

Hauliers to bear brunt of latest clean air plans

The rollout of local clean air zones (CAZs) across the country has continued apace in recent weeks, provoking reactions from the road transport sector ranging from optimism to fury – as councils and regional authorities continued to pursue a diverse range of policies, many of which will see hauliers bear the brunt of new charging schemes.

On 8 April, London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) came into force in the centre of the capital, in the same area as the congestion charge.

Commercial vehicles that do not meet Euro 6 diesel standards (or Euro 4 for petrol) now face daily charges for entering the zone – £100 for HGVs, buses and coaches, and £12.50 for vans and minibuses – and stiff penalties for non-compliance, of £1,000 and £160 respectively, though these penalty figures are halved if paid within two weeks.

Under pressure from central government, increasing numbers of local authorities elsewhere in the country are following London’s lead. Shortly before Transport Operator went to press in early April, Bristol City Council announced its intention to introduce a charging CAZ, with passenger cars seemingly exempt, but lorries, buses, vans and taxis falling within scope.

No official charging figures have yet been released; but the city will consult on its plans over the summer and submit a full business case to government by the end of the year, for a possible 2020 launch.

Meanwhile in Bath, a similar scheme has just received sign-off by the local council – with passenger cars again enjoying an exemption, while commercial vehicles face daily charges.

The scheme will see operators of all but Euro 6 trucks, coaches and buses pay £100 a day to enter the zone from late 2020. The daily charge for non-compliant vans and private-hire taxis will be £9.

Elsewhere, the announcement in late February of the largest CAZ yet outside the capital, in Greater Manchester – which is set to impose similar charges for heavy vehicles from 2021 – attracted ire from the Road Haulage Association (RHA) last month, which said the “punitive and anti-business” plans could see local hauliers fold.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett called the proposals from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority “yet another attack on haulage” which ignored the significant progress the industry will have made by the date of proposed implementation in terms of slashing nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions.

Pricing out trucks could result in a “modal shift towards vans”, he said, leading to a rise in congestion and pollution.

“The GMCA should be putting forward effective and well-thought-out plans to improve air quality instead of punishing hauliers with crippling charges that won’t achieve anything,” Burnett remarked.

“This is just another tax on the industry which would see many small businesses facing a battle to survive as they struggle to cope with the extra costs.”

The approach in Birmingham has been somewhat different, attracting praise from the Freight Transport Association (FTA) last month, not least for its inclusion of non-compliant passenger cars as part and parcel of the scheme – which will pay £8 per day from January 2020 for entering the CAZ, defined as the part of the city within the A4540 Middleway ring road.

Chris Yarsley, Midlands policy manager at FTA, welcomed the fact that Birmingham Council had: “refrained from placing the responsibility for improving air quality solely on the shoulders of businesses, when drivers of all types of vehicles – for both private and commercial use – must play their part; it is refreshing to see private cars also included in the zone.”

He also welcomed the fact that the charges for heavier vehicles, which are to be set at £50 in the city – half the sum to be imposed in Bath and elsewhere – would be subject to a one-year exemption, to ease the financial burden on fleets.

“Birmingham City Council has bucked the trend set by other cities across the country to produce an air quality plan that protects the health of both its citizens as well as that of the local economy,” said Yarsley.

“Following a succession of disastrous CAZ proposals in cities including Bath, Leeds and Manchester, which all failed to consider the needs of local and small business, FTA is pleased Birmingham City Council has taken FTA’s advice on board when formulating its plans.

“By granting a one-year exemption for commercial vehicles currently registered within the zone or those registered in the wider Birmingham area (exact parameters to be confirmed) which have an existing finance agreement beyond 2020, it recognises the financial burden that prematurely upgrading vehicles places upon local or small businesses.”

There has also been some relief for hauliers in the vicinity of Cardiff, whose council has ruled out CAZ charging – instead turning its attention to alternative measures such as electric buses, a bus retrofit scheme, and lower-emission taxis, the funding for which is to be sought from the Welsh government.

And in Leeds – which has also attracted some criticism for its planned £50 daily charge for pre-Euro 6 HGVs, buses and coaches from early 2020 – the council has sought to mitigate concerns with the launch of a competition for Euro 6 heavy vehicle grants.

Up to £16,000 per truck is on offer, for up to five trucks per operator, with a total pot of £13.8 million available. A £2 million fund is also being made available for buses and coaches, for grants of the same size per vehicle. Successful participants will be able to put the money towards new or used Euro 6 vehicles or retrofits, and for the payment of exit fees for the lease agreements on older vehicles.

Bath in the spotlight

In Bath, financial help in the form of interest-free loans to enable the upgrade or replacement of vehicles will also be available, the local authority says, with operators unable to secure funding granted exemption from the tolls until the end of 2022.

Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) councillor Mark Shelford (right), cabinet member with responsibility for sustainability, resilience, highways and transport, said the measure was in response to a public consultation over the proposed CAZ.

This had generated over 8,000 responses after BANES was ordered by central government to reduce pollution in the city, which is said to be at illegal levels.

Making the announcement to assembled freight operators at the Bath Clean Air Roadshow, Councillor Bob Goodman – the cabinet member responsible for development and neighbourhoods – said that an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) survey of vehicle pollution had revealed that most of it was generated by diesel vehicles of Euro 5 standard or less, and Euro 3 petrol cars.

Councillor Shelford said there had been a consensus that air quality must be improved, as BANES was legally obliged to do so; however, local residents had appeared less than enthusiastic about constraints being applied to their car use and ownership.

Hence, while it was acknowledged that cars were the root of the problem, it would be truck, van, and bus operators who ended up paying the tolls.

BANES had opted for a Class C CAZ: one which did not toll older and more polluting private cars; but the council would operate a scrappage scheme in an attempt to get older cars off the roads.

He admitted that the core problem in Bath was too many cars, with many narrow roads being blocked by residential parking which was preventing the introduction of ‘jam busting’ public transport initiatives such as busways or trams.

He said that “public transport was vital” in dealing with Bath’s twin problems of traffic congestion and pollution.

“How do we make buses better?” He asked, noting that there was a 30 per cent reduction in traffic congestion in the city during school holidays. He urged local schools to consider measures such as staggering start times to allow school buses to perform two ‘lifts’ per day.

Councillor Shelford added that a raft of measures were being considered to discourage car use, including changing the city’s park and rides from a park for free and pay for the bus ride model to pay to park and ride the bus for free to encourage car sharing on journeys into the city.

New housing developments would not be allocated as many car-parking spaces as in the past, and those spaces that were permitted would be allocated for car-sharing schemes.

Responding, Rhys Williams, the RHA’s regional manager for the Midlands and West (right), launched into a stinging attack on the proposals.

“There are four tools which operators can use to comply with or avoid these charges,” he said. They could buy Euro 6 vehicles, reroute to avoid the CAZ, transfer cargoes to vans, or retrofit existing trucks to reach Euro 6 standards.

He argued that an overnight fleet renewal with Euro 6 trucks would be unaffordable for many operators, pointing out that vehicles such as removal vans were required to go into residential areas, but the high cost of bodywork and relatively small annual mileages covered meant that such vehicles needed to last for 12 years or more.

Rerouting would put large vehicles onto unsuitable rural roads around Bath and cause more congestion and pollution, as would breaking truck loads down so they could be carried by smaller vehicles.

“One lorry load equals 26 van loads,” he said.

Retrofitting to raise exhaust standards to a Euro 6 equivalent was “a unicorn” as far as the truck industry was concerned: “There are no conversions for trucks currently.”

He described the measures as “an official stealth tax: an air tax on the haulier.

“How does charging £100 improve air quality?” he asked, pointing out that everything from deliveries to Bath’s hospitals to transporting horses to the city’s racecourse would become more expensive.

“I suspect we will see agricultural products loaded onto farm tractors and driven straight through the middle of Bath,” he warned.

“Southampton, Nottingham, and Derby have all found ways of raising air quality without taxing trucks,” he pointed out.

He urged the council to consider measures including encouraging night-time deliveries, improving traffic light phasing as Southampton had, and letting trucks use bus lanes where appropriate, as happened in Croydon.

“Don’t let Bath become a toll booth,” he pleaded. “I know this decision has been ratified, but let’s look at what other cities are doing.”

From the floor, Simon Emery, joint managing director of Bath building company Emery Brothers, said the CAZ tolling was a big problem for his company.

“We have 35 non-compliant vehicles,” he said. “We buy vehicles at two years old and sell them on at 12.”

He asked for more hard detail on the funding available, and the councillors said the interest-free loans available for upgrades would be offered without the involvement of central government.

Image (top-right): Trucks entering central London now need to be compliant with the standards of the new ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), like this Mercedes-Benz Econic in service with FM Conway, or else face daily charges

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