The Effects of Clean Air Bills on the Road Haulage Industry

Clock  8 minutes to read

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By Hemisphere

The three main things people need to survive are good food, fresh water and clean air. Any of these – or rather, the lack of them – can be fatal. Air pollution is not a new thing; while it’s tempting to date the problem to the Industrial Revolution, anecdotal evidence of complaints exists as far back as the thirteenth century. What is indisputable, however, is that technology, industrialisation and urbanisation have combined to exacerbate the issue.

Things came to a head in the UK in 1952 with London’s Great Smog, when circumstances conspired to create a dense and persistent miasma which caused tens of thousands of people to become ill and four thousand to die; up to a further eight thousand died in the weeks following.

While there had been attempts to combat air pollution prior to this time, this event acted as a catalyst for action that resulted in the Clean Air Act 1956. Since then, further legislation and additional monitoring networks have been introduced to combat and measure air quality in the UK, leading us to the current Clean Air Strategy, which balances the requirements of three other strategies: the Industrial Strategy, the Clean Growth Strategy and the 25 Year Environment Plan.

These acts have an impact on the way in which the road haulage industry operates, now, in the immediate future and in the longer term. Indeed, chapter 5 of the Clean Air Strategy looks specifically at action to reduce emissions from transport. This article aims to offer an overview of the challenges faced both by the agencies charged with improving air quality and the road haulage industry, and also at the penalties faced if targets set aren’t met.


What the Strategy aims to achieve

The government is committed to meeting legally binding international targets to reduce emissions of fine particulate matter, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), with staged targets set in 2020, 2030 and 2040. The new Strategy also proposes action to cut public exposure to particulate matter pollution (PM2.5), as per the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Strategy acknowledges that transport is not the sole cause of air pollution and also takes action against other causes, such as domestic burning on stoves and open fires, which is now the single biggest source of particulate matter emissions. In addition, it is acknowledged that both emissions of nitrogen oxides and average levels of nitrogen dioxide at the roadside are at their lowest level since records began.

Having said that, there is no room for complacency; road transport, domestic shipping, aviation and rail are responsible for 50% of nitrogen oxides, 16% of PM2.5 and 5% of NMVOCs, which together represent a significant proportion of air pollutant emissions.

Clearly transport has a key role to play, and it’s wise to bear in mind that as emissions from road transport have an impact on local air quality, they are likely to be subject to close scrutiny. The creation of Clean Air Zones aimed at reducing air pollution and encouraging the use of cleaner vehicles will be supported by clear enforcement mechanisms – there will be penalties for failing to comply with requirements. Clean Air Zones are currently being planned in some sixty towns and cities, with London having already introduced an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

However, changing a 100-year-old transport system won’t happen overnight.


The effects of the bill

Overall, the legislation will have a positive effect on the environment, which will also benefit people – especially those who live in areas with the poorest air quality.

That benefit will undoubtedly be welcomed by all, but it has to be balanced against what will be an increase in costs. Depending on how things are managed, costs are likely to be levied on drivers by towns and cities charged with creating Clean Air Zones, similar to the London Congestion Charge.  Some cities may aim to charge only older vehicles, which will be responsible for higher emissions, whereas others may avoid charging drivers of private cars and motorcycles and focus instead on vehicles such as buses, taxis and HGVs.

It might be possible to avoid or at least reduce access charges and penalty fees by upgrading vehicles – but an issue for hauliers has to be the lack of a joined-up policy. It’s up to individual local authorities to determine their approach, so keeping on top of what is charged and where might be onerous. It will also put additional pressure on local councils, many of which are already stretched, after a decade or so of funding cuts.

Any costs incurred are likely to be passed on, so eventually everyone is going to be contributing in some way to the cost of cleaning up air pollution, whether that be directly, through vehicle upgrades and/or charges for driving within certain city boundaries, or indirectly, via increases in the prices of goods and services.

In July 2018 the government published the Road to Zero, which laid out its plan for the transition to zero emission road transport. The intention is to end the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. It wants 50% and 70% of new car sales, and up to 40% of new van sales, to be ultra-low emission by 2030; and by 2050, almost every car and van to be zero emission. Progress will be reviewed in 2025.

Despite this, some have suggested the government has not done enough. Claire Haigh, Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, called for an end to the freeze in fuel duty, which she said, “has led to a four per cent increase in traffic since 2011.” Ian Johnston, CEO of Engenie, criticized them for not bringing forward to 2032 the date for an end to new conventional petrol and diesel car and van sales, saying, “the government has failed to set a timeline for the transition to low-emission vehicles that prioritises the health of its citizens.”


An ideal approach

There’s no disputing that the various elements of the work being done to ensure that clean air and a healthy environment may be enjoyed by everyone are complex and wide-ranging; however, it seems to us that there are a few steps that could be taken that would ease implementation for all concerned.


Phase in legislation

Rather than have things land in a haphazard way depending on how individual local authorities are able to cope with the demands made on them, we believe changes should be phased in so that hauliers know what to expect on a UK-wide basis. A phased implementation plan would allow everyone – hauliers, transport companies, motorists and local authorities – to prepare for any changes, no matter where they are, and to implement changes to their own policies and procedures in line with that.


Implement price-banding

Standard prices – within bands, to allow for differences between areas – would help hauliers to budget for additional costs, especially when it comes to moving within Clean Air Zones.


Greater focus on low-emission vehicles

When it comes to electric vehicles, they are limited by two things: how far they can go on a single charge, and how far they have to travel to get to a charging station. Significant progress needs to be made before it’s as easy to charge up an electric vehicle as it is to fuel up with diesel. Having said that, electric trucks are available and the potential of them is huge, although there’s a way to go before they can be used for long-haul journeys.

In the short term, they can be used for shorter trips. However, it seems there needs to be a focus both on development of vehicles – whether electric or hybrid – and the installation of supporting infrastructure.


Have a joined-up approach

This has to be the main aim – a joined-up approach so that hauliers know where they stand. This is an area where the focus has to be on the triple bottom line – people, planet, profits – and so joined-up thinking and action makes sense.


Navigating the changes

Hemisphere Freight Services is proactively working alongside suppliers to assist them by moving their cargo efficiently and in environmentally friendly ways.

By keeping abreast of the legislation, HFS can reduce any surprises and allow for passage through Clean Air Zones when working with clients. You can rely on HFS to find you the most efficient and cost-effective solution for transporting your goods, and we will also ensure you are made aware of any Clean Air Zones along your cargo’s journey.

Please get in touch with a member of the team for further guidance or to discuss your logistics requirements.