Lowering emissions with congestion charging

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One of the leading causes of pollution in cities is transport. How can we minimise the amount of emissions from vehicles? Maria Highland explores the role congestion changing plays when it comes improving air quality in cites.

Emissions within cities can be attributed to various sources this includes industrialisation, agricultural activities and mining, but the main culprit behind pollution in cities is transport. Vehicles cause pollution through emissions from fuel evaporation and combustion. The effects of air pollution on our health and environment is widespread. It is accountable for global warming, destroying the ozone layer, as well as causing respiratory and heart problems. With all these adverse effects of pollution, it is imperative that cities strive to cut emissions and lower environmental impacts.

Within cities, emissions are caused by three main factors says Caroline Calomme, product manager connected car services at Be-mobile, which are “traffic jams, heavy weight vehicles and unnecessary transportation by car.” She then explains that this “is why the response to this challenge requires a combination of mobility solutions including traffic management, fleet management, toll zones and traveller information.”

Transport and Environment has spoken out about the rise in UK car CO2 emissions, stating that the emissions are largely a result of increased SUV sales rather than declining diesel sales. In blog post on the T&E website, clean vehicles director Greg Archer highlights that the “primary reason for the increase is buried in a footnote to the SMMT statement on 2017 vehicles sales. It shows that there has been a sharp increase in SUV (dual purpose) vehicles sales while the rest of the market declined.” He notes that “SUVs now represent 18.1% of all new car sales.”

“It is time for the industry to stop claiming declining diesel sales are the cause of their increasing inability to tackle CO2 emissions,” writes Archer. “Instead they should fit more efficient technology to new cars that would radically lower their fuel costs for buyers.”

Archer explains that by this could be remedied by providing more choice in plug-in vehicles and taking advantage of falling battery prices. He also places emphasis on marketing such cars more marketing these cars more aggressively as only 3.7% of marketing spend is on plug-in vehicles. “It is time to end the misinformation that is endemic in the industry,” Archer adds, “carmakers should start providing and marketing the plug-in cars that are needed to tackle our toxic air and climate crisis and are fit for the 21st century.”

Unfortunately, there remains little supply of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars in the market. Archer also makes a point that industry claims that declining diesel sales are worsening CO2 emissions is “largely a smokescreen for their own failure to fit sufficient technology to improve the efficiency of the cars they sell.”

“Instead they have focused on promoting larger, higher performance diesel cars that are more profitable,” says Archer. “Carmakers are also anxious to rebuild consumer trust in diesel following the Dieselgate scandal. They are desperate to promote diesel as lower carbon whereas in practice these are much higher emitting than hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars for which there is little supply in the market.”

Therefore, whilst the problem persists, the best option to reduce the number of polluting vehicles within a city is to introduce congestion zone and congestion charging.  However, as Calomme explains, while “congestion zones may contribute to the reduction of emissions in cities, the way in which they are implemented in practice determines their success in doing so.”

She suggests that the best way to do this would be to take into account the “time at which vehicles are driving in the city (time-based fees) and the direction in which the vehicle is driving, namely towards the city or away from it (direction-based fees).” By taking this into consideration would mean that someone travelling into the city during rush hour would face a higher charge than someone who drives into the city round peak times. “This would trigger a shift in the mobility of the city by nudging road users into modifying their behaviour,” says Calomme, as cheaper rates would offer an incentive to do so.

Once a congestion charge is introduced, it is very important to provide updated pricing on a regular basis, as “Specific peak and off-peak charges are much more likely to change driving habits than a fixed rate throughout the day, e.g. from 7am until 6pm,” adds Calomme. She then explains that this is where a “tool giving the city the ability to update the pricing on a regular base, via cloud-based updates in the context of GNSS tolling, can also play an important role allowing the charge to adapt to the evolving and complex congestion scenarios.”

London is known to have a Congestion Charging zone and the London mayor Sadiq Kahn intends to introduce Ultra- Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) from April 2019. Vehicles travelling in the (ULEZ) will need to meet the exhaust emission standards or pay a daily charge. The ULEZ is to cover the same area as the Congestion Charging Zone –  this will be clearly signposted – and will operate every day of year, 24 hours a day, including weekends and public holidays.

Alternatives to driving within the ULEZ is to switch to a zero-emission vehicle, join a car club (all car club vehicles meet ULEZ standards). Likewise, you could walk, cycle or use public transport. The ULEZ is aimed to encourage the use of alternative methods of transport, such as walking, cycling and public transport. Likewise, the ULEZ zone can help to promote more sustainable freight deliveries within the city. By minimising the number of polluting vehicles in central London, the zone will help to reduce harmful emissions across the capital.

If a vehicle travelling with the ULEZ zone does not meet the outlined emission standards and the driver fails to pay the daily charge, then a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) will be issued. This penalty will be issued in addition to any other pre-existing Congestion Charges or Low Emission Zone penalties.

Additionally, Transport for London intends to increase the Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) in order to help tackle congestion in the capital. This change was implemented in at the beginning of January this year. London’s Congestion Charge has been vital in helping to reduce the number of vehicles in central London and fines for not paying the Congestion Charge works to encourages drivers to be compliant.

TfL have found that over the past 5 years there has been a 12 per cent increase in the number of motorists being issued with Congestion Charge Penalty Charge Notices, showing that the effectiveness of the PCN has gradually decreased over the years. The new PCN has gone up from £65 to £80, or £130 to £160 for late payment is expected to encourage greater compliance and to help to improve traffic.

TfL’s general manager for road user charging, Paul Cowperthwaite, explains: “We want to make London’s streets safer and healthier places that are less dominated by the car. Although the Congestion Charge has been effective in reducing the number of cars entering central London, we’ve seen a 12% increase in the number of motorists being issued with PCNs in the last five years.

“This shows that the deterrent factor of the existing PCN has reduced over time. The new PCN level will help improve compliance and also encourage people to consider cheaper and more active alternative forms of travel,” he concludes.

Likewise, later this year, TfL is proposing to increase PCNs for offences which take place on their road network too – however, this is subject to the required Secretary of State review. Over a third of traffic in London uses TfL’s road network (also known as red routes). Vehicles which use this network that drive in bus lanes, block roads, park incorrectly and make banned turns all contribute towards creating hazards that inconvenience and pose danger to other road users, especially for pedestrians and cyclists. Therefore, it is vital to keep these main routes clear in order to reduce congestion, vehicle emissions, delays to bus passengers and road danger.

Tackling emissions from larger vehicles

In addition to charging passenger vehicles, cities can look to also tackling emissions from HGVS. For example, last year in January the city of Gothenburg banned heavy vehicles over 3.5 tonnes from making deliveries between the hours of 11:00 and 05:00. Now the delivery and distribution of goods is controlled in the morning and from the 11:00 am onwards, no delivers are to be made until the following morning at 5:00 am.

This allows for more pedestrian space, reduce emissions and noise from transport without compromising on services for stores and other activities requiring deliveries. The main motive behind this is to separate vulnerable road users and heavy traffic, but also to promote the development of solutions that contribute to reduced traffic the streets.

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone and Congestion Charge also help to reduce the amount of emissions from not only passenger cars, but HGVs too and aims to promote the use of cleaner vehicles. Heavy goods vehicles and specialist vehicles are now currently subject to paying Congestion Charge and Low Emission Zone charges.

Then, as of 2019, the vehicles will also be liable to pay a T-Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone charges. For example, if a HGV does not meet the Euro IV diesel standard, the driver will incur a daily charge of £200. In order avoid unnecessary charges, logistics operators are encouraged to invest in cleaner vehicles.

However, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) believes that London mayor Sadiq Kahn may be working on cleaning up the city’s air quality, but is rushing through a HGV road safety scheme. The FTA speculates that there could be hundreds of cleaner trucks on the roads but the uncertainty surrounding Khan’s plans for a Direct Vision Standard (DVS) is delaying this change.

The main aim of the DVS is to improve the safety of heavy goods vehicles operating in the capital. The standard includes the use of a star system, rating HGVs from lowest to highest (0-5) based on how well drivers can see directly through their cab windows rather than how well they can see indirectly through cameras or mirrors.

The DVS was first launched in September 2016 and following the first consultation from January – April 2017, proposals have been made. If approved, all HGVs over 12 tonnes will need to have a safety permit when operating in London from 2020. A second consultation was held between November 2017 and January 2018. There has been mention of the permit scheme evolving again in 2024 to become stricter.

Due to amount of time it is taking to finalise the qualification levels for the DVS and unrealistic time schedule for implementation there is confusion and frustration among logistics operators as they are forced to hold off on procuring any new, cleaner vehicles in fear that in a few years’ time, they may no longer meet the DVS – this would mean they would not be suitable for use in London in the coming years.

“The Mayor has scored a spectacular own goal with DVS.  FTA, along with everyone living and working in London, wants to see an improvement in the city’s air quality, but this could have happened faster if the new DVS had been better planned,” explains Natalie Chapman, FTA’s Head of Urban Policy. The “FTA’s submission to the latest consultation on the scheme provides evidence that truck owners and operators are delaying procurement of the cleanest Euro VI vehicles, because they have no idea whether they’ll meet the requirements of the DVS,” says Chapman.

She also adds that “HGVs form the backbone of the capital’s logistics system transporting everything the city needs, from food and medical supplies to building materials and waste recycling,” therefore, she argues, that the “Mayor should be doing everything he can to help responsible operators buy the cleanest and safest vehicles.”


What are the alternatives?

As previously mentioned, one way to avoid a number of charges associated with using a passenger vehicle within the city is to opt for public transport. Calomme also suggests that “increasing the use and installation of Park & Ride zones at strategic locations can also lower emissions within cities.

“Powerful historical traffic analysis tools can assist the city to gather accurate information on where the majority of vehicles enter and exit the city. This way, the ideal locations for new Park & Ride zones that will actually be used by the road users can be identified,” she explains.

The City of Antwerp, Belgium has made use of an informative online mobility portal which was helped users to make better travel decisions, thanks to Be-Mobile’s fine-tuned intermodal route planner. The algorithms behind it make use of key Park & Ride locations and display low emission zones. Overall, this allows users to make smarter travel decisions as well as helping to fight city congestions and reducing its environmental impact.

Likewise, “the end-users benefit as well because they can reach their destinations with ease, avoid traffic and maybe even enjoy a cup of coffee before they step into public transport,” adds Calomme. “Comfort is a critical aspect in transforming habits and triggering a shift from individual vehicles to public transport,” she concludes.


Which method is best?

Overall, the most effective way to combat emissions within the city comes as a mixture of both congestion charging, technology and requires a joint effort from everyone – from logistics operators, solutions providers, councils and drivers. Calomme explains that “lowering emissions can be tackled even more directly by clearing the traffic jams as soon as possible. The longer the engines are running while the vehicles are not in motion, the more CO2 is emitted.”

Currently, we have numerous technologies which allows us detect traffic jams and provide real-time updates and advice to road users. By doing so, congestion and traffic jams can be avoided and alternative routes provided so that vehicles spend less time standstill. However, avoiding traffic jams is not enough, polluting vehicles still enter cities. This is where congestion charging proves very useful in promoting behaviour changes.

But how do we tackle emissions beyond congestion zones? Tolling is a valuable method where congestion zones do not apply. “Beyond zones, taking into account the emission class of the vehicles will also encourage road users to switch to environment-friendly (read: taxed less) vehicles, similarly to what is already happening with heavy good vehicles in Belgium,” says Calomme.

She also notes that “technology making real-time pricing updates possible and the ability to communicate them to the OBU or smartphone will play a key role in the success of a passenger tolling scheme.”