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Clearing the air over emissions

Date: 21 June 2018   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Fleets are being pushed to reduce emissions, but with varied targets and charges across different UK cities, complying with them all is a bit of a minefield. Rachel Boagey investigates.

The 'demonisation' of diesel and the clamour to shift to cleaner fuels has created a steady feed of news stories set against the backdrop of a desire for better air quality. 

For those that manage fleets, there is an increased responsibility to ensure they are buying and running vehicles that not only fulfil the needs of the business, but also meet current and future rules and regulations.

These regulations are not necessarily easy to get your head around. In fact, there are currently 208 low-emission zones in Europe, which seem to play a part in forming a model for the UK's Clean Air Zones (CAZs). These zones are extremely varied in geographical scale (ranging from whole cities to single roads), vehicle types affected, pollutants considered, and methods of implementation and enforcement.

In London, the mayor has the job of achieving good air quality standards and has the power to direct local authorities in relation to the topic. Sadiq Khan has announced a number of proposals to improve air quality in the city, including the introduction of the emissions surcharge,  known as the T-Charge, on the most polluting vehicles entering central London from 23 October 2017. 

Low -emissions 2

The T-Charge is a £10 fee for vehicles with emission standards that pre-date Euro 4 that comes on top of the existing £11.50 congestion charge. The city already has a low-emissions zone, established in 2008, but authorities are looking to bring forward the roll-out of the city's ultra-low-emissions zone (ULEZ) to 2019, which means only diesels meeting the latest Euro 6 standards won't have to pay a further charge.

The creation of CAZs in major UK cities is part of the government's broader Air Quality Plan, which aims to improve air quality and address sources of pollution. This, of course, sets a precedent that other cities could follow. In fact, the CAZ Framework has identified five other cities, including Derby, Birmingham and Nottingham, that need to improve air quality significantly. It's not just cities in the UK that are instigating plans to reduce urban air pollution. France has a scheme in place in cities such as Paris, Lyon and Lille, which means drivers need to apply and pay for a sticker for permission to drive in those locations.

Not a 'one size fits all' solution 

"The AA is clear that CAZs should be individually designed to tackle the unique air quality needs in individual areas. While cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Derby and Southampton have all been earmarked to introduce a CAZ, they should not adopt a 'one size fits all' approach," Stuart Thomas, director of fleet and SME services at the AA, tells granitekitchen. 

While this would require fleets to know the rules for each individual scheme, by not creating an 'off-the-shelf' product, it would stop other local authorities from simply introducing a CAZ for an unspecified purpose. "Therefore, the best way for businesses to avoid picking up any charges and safeguard themselves from fees is to implement a long-term fleet strategy, such as a switchover to alternative fuels," says Thomas. "We also believe that government should be providing incentives to help businesses achieve this goal." 

Congestion Charge Zone Sign , Introduced 2003

Due to the variety of jobs that fleets will be sent on, in differing locations, route optimisation and ensuring that jobs and appointments are met in good time has always been vital, and will become even more so going forward. "Rigorous planning will be even more essential to ensuring that the right vehicle, with the right equipment, goes to the right job and can travel compliantly through a range of locations to avoid fines and penalties," Thomas says.  

"When managed effectively, the implementation of connected car solutions can save fleet managers significant time, as well as reducing risk, avoiding fleet downtime and improving overall fleet efficiencies. The geofencing and journey planning elements of connected car technology can provide great added value and time-saving abilities to fleet managers who use them effectively."

A consistent approach 

Despite the potential positives, the impending introduction of these measures is causing some concerns among fleet operators. Once the new ULEZ is in place, these costs could soon mount up for companies operating fleets in and around the capital, unless they meet Euro 6 standards.

Fleet sector representatives are therefore appealing to the government and London's City Hall to ensure that the introduction of the new measures is consistent and carefully managed. This is so that vehicle operators can make the necessary adjustments and know where they stand when it comes to the impending costs, explains Peter Millichap, UK marketing director at Teletrac Navman. 

The AA's Thomas explains that through a continual process of consultation, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) "has repeatedly stated that chargeable CAZs should be "a port of last resort, rather than the point of first response. Fleets will be keen to see this position remain intact, especially with the publication of the upcoming Road to Zero air quality review, which is due to be released shortly".

A financial minefield 

Although the move will have a positive impact on air pollution, there are concerns that the introduction of the zones is creating a minefield, imposing daily charges and fees on drivers that don't meet the predetermined emissions standard, much like the one introduced in London in October 2017. 

Defra's own impact assessment, published in 2016, warned that smaller vehicle operators, in particular, were likely to find that the cost of upgrading their vehicles to meet the new standards has "a significant financial impact". Furthermore, the report warns, this could result in an increase in retail prices, as well as some businesses "exiting
the market".

"In the short term, it is vital for fleets with a presence in central London to start making smarter decisions ahead of the introduction of ULEZ by maximising efficiency through the implementation of connected car data and moving towards alternative fuels to power their business vehicles," says Thomas.

Changing times 

The good news is that those who manage larger fleets tend to be more informed about government proposals, and proposed industry responses and plans, says Thomas. "In our latest Operational Fleet Insight report, we found that 62% of fleet managers are aware of the government's recently published CAZ Framework and 66% of them support the introduction of the zones," he says.

"But many feel more should be done to help facilitate the introduction of alternative fuels. Nearly half of fleet managers (47%) feel that governmental organisations should be lobbying for greater investment in electric vehicle infrastructure."

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Fleet managers are already counting on changes to their fleets. Currently, 94% of fleets are made up of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, but in five years' time, fleet managers expect that percentage to have dropped to 74%. Correspondingly, while fleets have 30% of vehicles powered by alternative fuels, that is expected to rise to 63% in the next five years.

granitekitchen approached Defra to ask how it expects the changing and increasingly stringent rules to affect fleets. Tuan Vu, who works in the ministerial unit at Defra, explains,

"The Department for Transport is working with industry to address the issues you raise. In March 2017, the UK Government announced a new £23-million fund to accelerate the take-up of hydrogen vehicles and roll out more cutting-edge infrastructure."

However, that growth is dependent on improvements in terms of the capabilities of alternatively fuelled vehicles. Many fleet managers can feel under pressure to investigate alternatively powered vehicles, but they can also feel they lack the information to make the right strategic decision or feel the government, manufacturers and suppliers are just not pushing the CAZ agenda forward quickly enough.

"Local authorities also have an important role in improving air quality. They must carry out regular reviews of air quality in their areas, which often includes checking the levels of pollution in the air," explains Vu.

Thomas says that fleet managers want to see the government leading the way to make it easier for their fleets to consider using an alternative fuel, "especially following the publication of the proposed CAZ Framework that's designed to reduce air pollution in those more built-up areas." 

Across the different business sectors, the AA has found that there are varying degrees of awareness of the government's CAZ  Framework, with the business services sector having the highest awareness at 75%,  while it is the construction and facilities management sector that has the lowest at 49%. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are not far ahead at 58%, while IT and telecoms have a shade more awareness at 59%.

"It's not that fleets are against CAZs though - indeed 65% of all the businesses support the idea, finds the AA, with many agreeing with the benefits that could come from the implementation of them in cities," says Thomas. 

For instance, according to the organisation's findings, 71% of businesses agreed with the idea of lower parking fees for ultra-low-emission vehicles and 73% agreed with the idea of free entry into CAZs for vehicles meeting minimum emissions standards.

But while there is agreement on the goal for reducing pollution in cities, the majority of fleet managers still want to see more done by the government, manufacturers and suppliers to make the uptake of AFVs an easier and cost-effective proposition. 

"In the short term, it is vital for fleets with a presence in central London to start making smarter decisions."

"After all, if we are to keep Britain moving and improve our air quality, then everyone has an important role to play in achieving this," Thomas explains. 

Fleet sector representatives are therefore appealing to the government and London authorities to ensure that the introduction of the new measures is consistent and carefully managed, so that vehicle operators can make the necessary adjustments. 

"What's more, the new ULEZ/CAZ measures are an opportunity to facilitate better, more environmentally minded conduct from business and individuals alike," says Millichap. 

"It is therefore vital that the government puts the right incentives in place, including, but not limited to, financial incentives, so that all concerned are encouraged to make
that transition."

What is indispensable is that the government makes sure that it works closely with vehicle operators to ease the transition to these new measures, properly taking account of the struggles and  financial challenges fleets are likely to face in the process of the change. 

"If this kind of close collaboration becomes a reality, then the rewards for everyone - local residents, commuters and businesses alike -  could be huge," Millichap concludes. 



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