In 90% of the UK’s urban areas, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have been above legal limits since 2010. These fumes come mainly from diesel vehicles, and are estimated to cause 23,500 early deaths a year. The situation is so serious that in 2016 a cross-party committee of MPs declared the problem a public health emergency.
The UK Government’s controversial air quality plan is controversial is attracting criticism from diverse quarters. Environmental lawyers are sceptical towards it and see it as weaker than what they wanted, while some businesses, particularly with vehicle fleets, view it with some worry.
Clean Air Zones
The main issue is around proposed clean air zones. These would be set up to exclude vehicles with the most harmful emissions. However, under the Government’s draft plan, these would come under local authorities, and would not be automatically chargeable to polluting vehicles.
For environmentalists, not charging makes a mockery of the whole plan. But for fleet businesses, the possibility of a charge is still a cause for concern, as it might eat into profits and margins.
Under the proposals, local authorities would still have the charging option if they exhausted all other possibilities first.
Alternatives and Incentives
Fleet managers have welcomed some aspects of the Government’s plan. It wants to encourage local authorities to improve traffic flow, and find ways of reducing the amount of engine idling.
It also includes proposals for a national scrappage scheme in the technical report accompanying the plan.
In contrast to the clean air zones, which have the potential to penalise vehicle fleets, a scrappage scheme could work as an incentive for them to modernise, by offering cash in exchange for them trading in older diesel vehicles.
The scrappage scheme, along with the plan, will be subject to Defra’s consultation process before it can go any further.
Clearly the pollution in urban areas is an issue in need of urgent action, but it is also clear that aspects of the proposed air quality act, if implemented in certain ways, will have a potentially negative impact on some businesses, including those operating vehicle fleets.
While a national scrappage scheme may be costly to implement, as an incentive-based concept, it has much to recommend it from a fleet management and transport business viewpoint.
This post has been adapted from AYCEN’s interview with Business Aspects Magazine.