Who Is Responsible for Excessive Urban Vehicle Emissions?

Is it the vehicle manufacturers, or people buying cars and vans without thinking? The ABD has recently issued a press release on this topic which lays the blame firmly on Government. See http://www.abd.org.uk/government-entirely-responsible-for-urban-vehicle-emissions-issues/ . In London that means the Mayor of London supported by TfL, plus the local London boroughs.

In summary vehicle emissions have improved enormously in the last few years, but those improvements have been defeated by unwise policies for tackling traffic congestion. Traffic speeds have slowed, which increases pollution. The ABD suggests in our press release how pollution could be tackled with more sensible policies.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Press Release: TfL Forced to Disclose ULEZ Costs

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has issued the following press release:

Back in April 2017 the ABD responded to a public consultation on the proposed extension of the ULEZ. However we criticised the lack of information on the cost/benefit of the scheme, indeed of any information on costs and likely revenues at all, which made making an informed response to the consultation difficult.

As Transport for London (TfL) refused to provide such information when requested we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. TfL refused the request on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality” so we asked for a review and subsequently appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

They have upheld our complaint and so we should get the requested information after all (unless they appeal to the First Tier Tribunal). But is it not disgraceful that TfL can obstruct and delay this legitimate need for such information?

TfL claimed it was commercially sensitive because they were already talking to possible suppliers but the ICO judged that there was insufficient evidence that such disclosure would result in specific harm to TfL that would justify refusal.

In our view the ULEZ proposals are out of proportion to the benefit to be obtained. The fact that TfL are apparently reluctant to disclose the financial budgets for this scheme suggests to us that it is more about tax raising than simply tackling the air pollution health issue.

In addition the costs of the scheme may be so high that even with the additional taxes raised from vehicle users, it may be unaffordable. BUT WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE TFL REFUSED TO TELL US.

It is unfortunately typical of late for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to issue public consultations in his name that are biased polemics of the benefits of his proposals while not disclosing the facts. Democracy is undermined when a public authority acts in this way.

It is further undermined when TfL refuse to disclose information and by doing so delay its release past the consultation due date when they know any appeal process will take many months.

There is great public concern about the costs imposed on London residents by the ULEZ proposals, often on the poorest residents. It needs to be clear that the benefits are justified by the costs and that more cost effective solutions to tackle London’s poor air quality cannot be found.

More information will be published when we get the requested data; in the meantime you can read the ICO’s decision notice here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/ICO-Decision-ULEZ-Request.pdf

More Information

The ULEZ proposals are part of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy which the ABD is vigorously campaigning against – see this web page for more information: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm

There is also an attack on vehicle usage and parking provision in the “London Plan” which the ABD is also opposing on the grounds of irrationally and the use of emotive phrases such as “car dependency” to describe people’s rational choice of transport mode. See the above web page for our recent submission to the public consultation on the London Plan.

For more information on this issue, contact Roger Lawson on 020-8295-0378.

Air Pollution and Asthma

The Financial Times reported this morning (23/12/2017) that the Government is going to launch a consultation on tighter restrictions on wood burning stoves. Particulates (e.g. PM2.5) as well as NOX emissions are seen as one of the reasons to reduce diesel vehicle usage but according to the FT, forty percent of particulate emissions in the UK come from burning wood and coal in homes – more than double that from diesel cars. Sadiq Khan in London is particularly concerned about the growth in the numbers of wood-burning stoves. For some reason they don’t seem to be covered by the Clean Air Acts that stopped the burning of coal in most UK cities.

Comment: it would certainly seem wise to tackle this problem. One of my local pubs recently installed such a fire in their restaurant. It may feel good to have a roaring wood fire near you over dinner, but it’s not good for air pollution or public health.

Meanwhile Private Eye published this report following the revelation that a number of top racing cyclists are taking medication: “The NHS is urging parents to look for signs of asthma in their children, which could include heavy wheezing, shortness of breath and winning the Tour de France. Another tell-tale sign your child could be asthmatic is that they’ve just signed to ride with Team Sky”.

It seems “exercised induced asthma” (EIA) is now a well-known condition so you need to add that to the list of causes of asthma that I gave in a previous blog post (see: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/does-air-pollution-in-london-cause-asthma/ ).

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Panicking Londoners: Consultation on ULEZ Extension

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced today a consultation on the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to within the North/South Circular in 2021. Any vehicle that does not meet the required emission standard will be required to pay a charge of £12.50 for cars/vans in addition to any central London Congestion Charge that might also apply. Cars and vans will need to meet the Euro 6 standard for diesels and Euro 4 standard for petrol vehicles.

In addition motorcycles will be included in the above and the ULEZ tighter emission standards will apply to the whole of London from October 2020 for heavy vehicles (buses, coaches, lorries and other specialist vehicles).

The announcement was launched with the following claims from Alex Williams of Transport for London: “Right now, air pollution in London is a public health crisis…….filthy air contributes to thousands of early deaths each year in London, and impacts our health over the course of our lives, leading to decreased lung function in our children, and greater risk of dementia and stroke when we get older.

This is scaremongering of the worst kind. The claim relating to deaths is an exaggeration and the claims about dementia and stroke are disputed by some authorities. In any case these are often based on epidemiological studies and results from such research may simply reflect the fact that those who live in poor inner-city neighbourhoods lead unhealthy life styles.

Even the suggested reduction in air pollution from these new taxes are only expected to have any impact in the next few years and by 2030 the benefit will have disappeared anyway. So very high short- term costs are being imposed on many vehicle owners as they will need to change their cars/vans unnecessarily.

I commented about claims that air pollution is causing an epidemic of asthma in a previous blog post here: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/does-air-pollution-in-london-cause-asthma/ . It’s basically nonsense.

London’s air, and the vehicles which drive in London, have been getting cleaner and that will rapidly progress as vehicles are replaced without this expensive scheme (of which the Mayor is refusing to disclose the costs). Where is the cost/benefit justification? There is none.

The Mayor claims that London’s air is “lethal” but that is simply not true. Sadiq Khan is now not just scaring children and dragging them into his politicking, but now is attempting to disconcert the elderly who might be worried about the diseases of age. It’s simply unprincipled. To say there is a “public health crisis” is just wrong. Londoners are living longer and there is no evidence that air pollution is shortening the lives of Londoners to any measurable extent.

Make sure you go here to respond to the public consultation: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/environment/air-quality-consultation-phase-3b/?cid=airquality-consultation

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Does Air Pollution in London Cause Asthma?

One response to the ABD’s campaign against the Mayor’s Transport Strategy is that we should not oppose it because it might stop their kids getting asthma. Children have been widely used in Sadiq Khan’s publicity over his plans to reduce air pollution and there is a strong emphasis in the Transport Strategy on the potential environmental benefits. But unfortunately, a lot of the arguments put forward are simplistic and show little understanding of the causes and prevalence of asthma.

Like the Mayor, this writer has suffered from asthma, so I have a personal interest in this issue. Note also that the ABD does not oppose cleaning up London’s air because one does not need a scientist to tell you that air quality in central London, and in some outer London “hot spots”, is appalling bad and not just makes walking or cycling unpleasant but probably exacerbates some medical conditions (including pre-existing asthma of course). The ABD’s opposition to the Mayor’s Transport Strategy is based on other factors and the irrational, ineffective and uneconomic approach to the environmental issues.

Let’s cover some of the basics about asthma:

  • Does air pollution cause asthma (in children or others)? As far back as 1995, a Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) looked at this issue and came to the conclusion that although air pollution may provoke asthma attacks or aggravate existing chronic disease, the effect is generally small with other factors such as viruses, cigarette smoke, diet and house dust-mite droppings more important. They also noted that there had been a general increase in asthma in the last 30 years so it was now a very common disease. Was this down to more urbanisation and are city dwellers more likely to suffer from it because of air pollution? The answer is no. Indeed, a study in the Isle of Skye, where air pollution was believed to be minimal, showed as high a prevalence of asthma as anywhere else. See this report in The Independent for more information: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/air-pollution-is-not-the-cause-of-asthma-epidemic-1578437.html . Very heavy air pollution may reduce lung function in children according to more recent studies, but it is not the cause of the asthma epidemic in the last 50 years.
  • Why are allergies, that drive asthma, more common? There have been many possible causes put forward for this. It seems to relate to the exposure of very young children, or their mothers, that condition the immune system to over-react. For example, it has been argued that excessively clean houses are one cause. Smoking by mothers, or in houses, may have been another cause. Or a general increase in pollutants in the home. As we reported in the ABD London newsletter in June 2017, the concentration of some air pollutants can be five times higher indoors than outdoors. This is due to gas stoves, food cooking, dog/cat hairs, dead skin, lint particles from tumble dryers, deodorant spays, scented candles and air fresheners. The desire to minimise heat loss from homes, and reduce drafts (and hence fresh air) along with smaller homes might have contributed to these problems. Obesity is also a factor in asthma risk and we all know that has been rising. 
  • Are diesel vehicles a cause of worse air pollution and asthma? Diesel vehicles became popular for cars, and always have been for HGVs and buses, because of reduced fuel consumption and a desire to minimise carbon emissions. However that did not take account of the large emissions of NOX and particulates from such vehicles. But removing all diesel vehicles would not likely have much impact on overall air pollution levels in London. The reason is that much of the air pollution is from other sources such as home/office heating, industrial activities, or simply blown in from the countryside around. Even with vehicles, much of the particulates come from tyre and brake wear so converting all vehicles to electric ones will only reduce the emissions, not eliminate them. And removing private cars will have minimal impact when taxis, PHVs, LGVs, and HGVs continue to increase in number and are much bigger sources, as are trains, planes, river traffic and other transport modes. To reduce air pollution needs a much more “holistic” approach rather than focussing on one or two perceived evils alone. It seems very unlikely that attacks on diesel vehicles will have much impact on the causes or prevalence of asthma in any sensible timescale and the latest diesel vehicles are now very clean.

The above is a simplification of a very complex topic, but I hope it explains some of the key points. Does Mayor Sadiq Khan believe he is doing good by his aggressive environmental policies that will get us all walking and cycling (other than the disabled presumably)? Is he simply ignorant of the real issues? Or is he promoting these policies for other reasons, such as the financial problems of Transport for London, his desire to raise more funds and his desire to be seen as “doing good” to help his re-election?

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that although asthma has become a lot more prevalent, the medical treatments for the disease are now quite effective in other than the worse cases. Certainly, much better than when I was a child. The high prevalence of asthma in the UK has been given as one reason why the UK became a centre for the medical research into treatments. But it seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that asthma levels have increased.

My conclusion is that cleaning up London’s air might make it a more pleasant place to live and work, but it won’t have much impact on the prevalence of asthma.

Incidentally a great article on the scare-mongering associated with air pollution is present here: https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/claims-of-40000-deaths-from-air-pollution-debunked-by-death-statistics/

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Mayor Pushes Ahead With ULEZ

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced today that he is definitely going ahead with the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London from 2019, i.e. he is bringing forward the original planned date based on the results of his last consultation.

This will cover any vehicle that enters the existing Congestion Charge zone and will operate seven days per week, 24 hours a day, unlike the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax). The additional charge will be £12.50 for cars, vans and motorbikes that do not meet defined emission standards, or £100 per day for lorries, buses and coaches.

Diesel cars that do not meet the Euro 6 standard, which means most of them that will be more than 4 years old in 2019, will need to pay the additional charge – making it cost as much as £22.50 to drive into central London. Petrol cars will only have to meet the Euro 4 standard so even older such vehicles may be OK. Go to this web page to check your vehicle: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/ultra-low-emission-zone/check-your-vehicle?intcmp=32646

The ULEZ will replace the “T-Charge” on older vehicles which came into force in October this year.

The Mayor is also introducing a “particulate matter standard” to the ULEZ standards bearing in mind recent concerns about that kind of air pollution. It is not clear how that will work as it suggests that vehicles that comply with the Euro standards might fail on other grounds.

Bearing in mind that the ULEZ may be extended across a wider area (for example to the North/South circular), it seems likely that not many London residents will be buying diesel cars in future as emissions standards tighten, and more will buy electric vehicles.

The consultation responses (over 18,000 in total) showed 72% of the general public support the principle of a ULEZ, with only 21% opposed. But for those who drive within central London, 65% were opposed. Some 52% of drivers were also opposed to bringing forward the ULEZ to 2019. The ABD was one of only three stakeholder groups who opposed the ULEZ.

The Mayor also makes a pitch for a national vehicle scrappage scheme, a new Clean Air Act, changes to VED, and more money for City Hall in his press release.

Will the announced measures reduce air pollution? Probably although these are improving anyway as older vehicles are scrapped and replaced. But the main culprits as regards pollution were and are HGVs, LGVs, buses and taxis. Imposing such draconian standards on cars and even motorbikes 24×7 is not a cost-effective solution. The fact that the Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) have failed to provide any cost/benefit justification, nor even any of the budget costs of the scheme in response to an FOI Act request just tells you one thing. This scheme is as much about making money for the Major’s coffers as improving air pollution. This was also reflected in the consultation comments “written in” where 5% of respondents suggested it was a tax/revenue raising scheme for TfL.

But there were very few comments in support of extending the ULEZ boundary. Only 1% supported extending it to the North/South Circular. Let us hope that kills off that idea which would impose a major financial burden on many more London residents.

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Air Pollution from Small Particulates

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has released new research giving the emissions of toxic particles known as PM2.5. He claims most Londoners are exposed to levels that exceed WHO guidelines. Here’s a summary of the report:

The research, based on the latest updated London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, shows that 7.9 million Londoners – nearly 95 per cent of the capital’s population – live in areas of London that exceed the guidelines by 50 per cent or more.

PM2.5 are small toxic air particles which are alleged to have the greatest impact on health with both short and long-term exposure increasing the likelihood of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Children are particularly affected and may develop reduced lung function and asthma.

Around half of PM2.5 emissions in London are from external sources outside the city, however, the main sources of PM2.5 emissions in London are from tyre and brake wear, construction and wood burning.

The Mayor is clear that he wants to reduce emissions from wood burning through improved education about the types of fuel that should be used and when they should be used. He also wants a stricter set of emission standards on future sales of wood burning stoves to tackle this problem.

Comment: Why anyone should be permitted to use a wood-burning stove in central London when most people think such usage was banned under the Clean Air Act rather surprises me. But a lot of the particulate emissions are from construction in London, or are blown in from outside – and much of those are from agriculture, or even pollution from other countries. It is not at all clear how the Mayor is going to tackle these, but dust from tyre and brake wear is more easily controlled. Whether this would have a significant impact overall, or are cost effective measures, is not obvious though. Unfortunately this looks like political posturing by the Mr Khan, using children as his cheer leaders in this campaign.

Regrettably such pollution is mainly a symptom of over population, which Mr Khan and his predecessors seem not to want to do anything about.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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