Diesel is being demonised for contributing to poor urban air quality

Diesel is being demonised for contributing to poor urban air quality

The death of diesel has been a commonly used headline over the past few weeks. Today, on World Asthma Day, the subject of urban air quality will arise again as it has been proven that diesel particulates help accelerate the condition, particularly in the young and elderly.

There is no doubt that air quality has to improve, particularly in London and all our major cities. The dark cloud of a massive EU fine to the tune of several hundred million Euros has been hanging over London and its Mayor for some years.

Boris Johnson was given a number of chances to resolve the problem and the fine was postponed more than once, but time has been quickly running out. This is why the new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, will be forced to move quickly to penalise any vehicles coming into the capital that are likely to contribute to making air pollution any worse.

This is likely to come in the form of an increased Congestion Charge in early autumn with older diesel buses and taxis early targets to get off the road.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) has welcomed a proposed Government scrappage scheme, which will help cabbies get out of their aging diesel cabs and into something more environmentally friendly.

We saw with the launch of the London Congestion Charge in 2003 that drivers quickly responded by switching into lower emission cars to dodge the costs; the hybrid Toyota Prius benefitted most from this move as it was Congestion Charge-free at the time.

Munich, Oslo, Berlin, Madrid and Paris have already adopted legislation to restrict or ban diesels from their cities, with London and other UK cities likely to follow suit this year.

The likelihood is that London residents or those that commute daily into the capital will quickly switch into a new plug-in hybrid or pure Electric Vehicle (EV) to avoid any Congestion Charge increases, but that could well put an immediate strain on London’s vehicle charging infrastructure.

Charging points are still either conspicuous by their absence, they don’t work or are heavily oversubscribed each day. Khan will have to help accelerate the quality and quantity of charging stations with other authorities following suit.

Alongside this push towards cars with cleaner engines, there will have to be a rethink of the current CO2-based Vehicle Excise Duty and company car tax scheme, which was originally set up to reduce global warming.

This approach is common across the majority of Europe and a move towards a particulate-based NOx scheme will have to be fast-tracked if the behaviour of new car buyers is going to be influenced.

Nobull worked with a car maker on an emission equality campaign in 2011 to show how the majority of cars were set up to emit low levels of CO2, rather than NOx. We highlighted that a popular super mini actually emitted up to four times the amount of NOx than a large estate car, but there was a reluctance by a number of car manufacturers to move to a NOx-based system at the time. Perhaps that will now change across Europe.

Ultimately, one of the most influential sectors to help accelerate the reduction in diesel car use will be the fleet sector, where up to 90% of cars purchased for business use are diesel. Companies with a strong focus on Corporate Social Responsibility could well reduce the number of diesels on their car choice lists immediately.

Drivers could also force companies to change their choice lists, particularly if company car tax on diesel cars continues to rise and plug-in hybrids and all electric cars are incentivised.

Whatever happens, it would be wrong for diesel motorists to be penalised any further as they were previously encouraged to buy diesels. Hopefully, alongside diesel car penalties, there will be fines or incentives made for industry and buildings, as factory and home-based emissions are major contributors to emissions levels.

Rail companies will also be forced to speed up the phasing out of the diesel trains, which spew out harmful emissions every time they pull out of a station.

Looking at a timeframe when things will start to happen, the LTDA has predicted that diesel cabs are likely to disappear in the next five to six years; Sadiq Khan has also recently announced that the Ultra Low Emission Zone will be adopted in London from spring 2019.

If the regulators introduce penalties on new cars change diesels could disappear relatively quickly. It could take far longer to prise consumers in the used market away from diesels, with the industry spending the last 15 years educating buyers on how good they are.