Volkswagen, Uber, cabbies and London air quality

05 Oct 2015 | Francis Wright

London is currently in breach of EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air, which is linked to a range of respiratory illnesses. In July, King’s College London published a report which estimated the mortality burden of NO2 and PM2.5 pollution in London in 2010, with as much as 140,743 life-years lost.

We clearly have a problem, but what can be done to solve it? Transport for London (TfL) introduced the Low Emission Zone in 2011 and are currently planning to implement an Ultra-Low Emission Zone from September 2020. This is movement in the right direction, but far more could be done in a shorter timeframe. It didn’t take 5 years for Chinese cities to ban 2-stroke scooters and switch to CNG taxis.

On paper, new diesel vehicles are relatively clean, but we now know from the VW scandal that real world emissions are substantially different. Replacing the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC) with a more realistic alternative should be a priority. This should incentivise adoption of energy efficient technologies such as those developed by UK based company, Controlled Power Technologies, to reduce real emissions rather than gaming the system.

There should also be more incentive to retire older diesel vehicles that do not have retrofit systems to improve emissions. Cleaning up London’s black cab fleet is a significant opportunity. Black cabs are a British icon, but they are also expensive and polluting compared to petrol hybrids, CNG and electric vehicles. Cab drivers are facing growing competition from lower cost operators such as Uber and if we want black cabs to continue and thrive (which I do) TfL will need to subsidise the greening of the fleet and also remove some of the expensive and outdated aspects of the industry. The advent of effective mapping software means it is no longer necessary for drivers to know the name of every street.

Francis Wright

Managing Director