By Steve Carman
The recent partial car ban in Paris caused by poor levels of air quality only lasted a day, but the same type of restriction could soon become a regular occurrence in the UK’s largest cities in the next year or so.
British cities continually fail to meet EU air quality standards with some London streets being measured as 3-4 times the legal limit and Brussels is becoming very impatient with the UK’s capital faced with imminent fines of tens of millions of pounds each year.
The EU say thousands of people die through illnesses caused by poor air quality, which if this is the case cleaner cities have got to be good not only for public health, but also to help reduce the number of cases of asthma treated by the UK’s ailing health service.
But will British motorists really wake up to face restricted access to British cities? The answer is no because until major alternatives to driving into cities become a reality then in the short term local authorities will have to start paying the hefty EU fines.
London’s Congestion Charge (CC) has been successful in reducing the number of cars coming into London. More city residents have purchased some of the brilliant low or zero emission hybrids or electric cars currently available, but increase prices for the CC and you potentially force more commuters onto trains that are already bursting at the seams.
That’s where Network Rail’s recently announced £38bn five year investment plan for Britain’s railways comes in? Not only is it about modernising train services, but giving motorists a genuine, reliable and comfortable option to driving their own cars into UK cities.
One of the immediate alternatives is to keep motorists in their cars and use some of the potential EU fine money to be invested in incentives for drivers to buy electric or hybrid cars. Businesses should also be incentivised to run more low emission vans, and electric taxis should replace diesel taxis sooner rather than later.
Large public facilities such as Wembley, Twickenham and the O2 could be used as commuter car parks from Monday to Friday with drivers leaving their car and catching the train or tube to travel the final few miles into London. River taxis could also be called into action further action, while capacities at car parks at all the major stations within 50 miles of the likes of London and Manchester should be upgraded to encourage drivers to use public transport to finish their journeys off when travelling into a city.
We all know cleaner cities are the future and excellent progress is being made by all the key stakeholders, but there will be plenty of financial pain from the EU before we see those massive gains.