National Road Pricing a Step Closer, while NO2 Impact in Doubt

The likely proliferation of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in many of the UK’s cities with many of them introducing charging systems for non-compliant vehicles will lead to the widespread adoption of camera systems for enforcement. That is how the London Congestion Charge and the expanded ULEZ which will cover most of London is being enforced. In other words, cameras everywhere.

One inconvenience for drivers would have been the complexity of paying the charges if local councils all operated their own systems. This is already a problem in London where there is no common registration and auto-payment system for the Congestion/ULEZ system and the Dartford Crossing on the M25. But the Government have already anticipated this according to a report in Local Transport Today who were told that the Government is setting up a central payment system to support the local authorities. It seems that local authorities will still have a role in enforcement however – that probably means they will be able to retain the profits they can make from fines which will of course make such systems even more attractive than they would otherwise be.

As the ABD said in our recent press release announcing the publication of the truth about air pollution and vehicles (see http://www.abd.org.uk/air-quality-and-vehicles-the-truth/ ), the prime objective [from attacks on allegedly polluting vehicles] often appears to be simply the desire to extract money from car drivers and other vehicle users. Local authorities will perceive this as a godsend to solve their budget problems.

A national system of collecting payment for local CAZs does of course mean that introducing a national road pricing system would be very easy – just need to put up lots of cameras. Indeed with most of the major conurbations covered by CAZ and charging systems, that’s what we will have in place and ready to use for wider purposes.

There is strong public resistance to road pricing. But you can see the way the wind is blowing on this subject. You’ll know when it happens when the current air pollution legal limits are met but the enforcement stays in place or is extended to lower emission vehicles. Anyone wish to take a bet on that?

NO2 Impact in Doubt

One of the reasons why the Government has mandated CAZs for many cities is the failure to comply with current legal limits on NO2 (nitrogen dioxide). That gas was judged to have a major impact on life expectancy from past scientific studies even though it is difficult to separate out the impact of NO2 from other pollutants such as particulates. Now COMEAP, the Government sponsored authority on this subject, have published a report that questions the impact of NO2 with committee members taking varied views on whether it has any impact on health at all. The committee settled on an estimate that reducing NO2 by 1 μg/m3 would increase life expectancy by around 2 to 5 days, but some committee members fundamentally disagreed on even that calculation. See the COMEAP report here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/734799/COMEAP_NO2_Report.pdf for details.

It would seem that Government policy is being driven by dubious or uncertain science. But drivers on the roads of major cities will be facing big cost increases as a result.

Meanwhile Birmingham’s CAZ is shown as being poor value for money based on an economic appraisal by the local Council. Even taking into account the health and environmental benefits of £38 million over ten years, the costs imposed on drivers and vehicle owners results in overall negative costs of minus £122 million as a “net present value”. So just as with the extended ULEZ in London, we are seeing decisions being taken to pursue hopelessly unjustifiable attacks on air pollution.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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