London has an air pollution problem and needs to cut its carbon emissions. There are all sorts of schemes in place already, such as the emissions charging zone, bike path networks, gas powered buses and electric taxis. The city recently announced a new pilot scheme: closing a road to all traffic except ‘ultra low emission vehicles’ (ULEVs), such as electric, hydrogen or high-performing hybrid vehicles.
As it’s a pilot, the closure is very limited – just one end of short and quiet street in the city. It won’t inconvenience many people, but it will hopefully be enough to test out the idea and see what the effects might be. Perhaps more than anything else, it’s a statement of intent. It lets people know that parts of London could be closed entirely to oil-powered vehicles at some point, and commercial operators in particular will want to take notice.
The message from this kind of pilot project is that if you run a taxi firm or a delivery company, now would be a good time to accelerate any plans you had to switch to an electric fleet. If you don’t, you could find yourself at a disadvantage in the near future. Those who have switched to ULEVs will be able to take shortcuts that are closed to you, or guarantee a door-to-door service that you can’t promise.
This is a useful technique for cities wanting to improve air quality and reduce emissions, and there are lots of different permutations. Roads can be closed to heavy goods vehicles, or diesels. Like London, they can be closed to conventional oil-powered traffic. They can be closed on certain days or at certain times of day if necessary. Ultimately the aim is to make it easier for those choosing clean vehicles, and incentivising a change.
Road restrictions also allow cities to move faster than governments. Plenty of countries are talking about banning high-emission vehicles, but city authorities don’t have to wait for those policies to materialise. The business of cleaning up the air and the atmosphere can begin sooner than that.
Of course, there are more radical steps for those with the vision to take them. Chengdu, who got a mention on Friday for their space mirror, is planning to ban cars from half the city’s streets. Oxford is discussing a full ban of petrol and diesel vehicles from the town centre. Madrid will only be allowing residents and ULEVs to drive, and all delivery vehicles will be low emissions.
But if that’s all a bit too much where you are right now, start with a single street and see how it goes.