How low can they go? Cities are taking action to reduce air pollution and save lives

Air pollution is a bigger killer in Europe than obesity or alcohol: nearly half a million Europeans die each year from its effects.

Particulate matter (a complex mixture of extremely small dust particles and liquid droplets) and nitrogen dioxide (an invisible, but foul smelling gas) are particularly harmful to health.  As the New Scientist has explained:

“…nitrogen dioxide lowers birthweight, stunts lung growth in children and increases the risk of respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease. Particulate pollutants like soot cause a wider range of problems, including lung cancer.”

Motor vehicles are the main source of these emissions in urban areas. For this reason, European Union regulations introduced in 2010 set down that nitrogen oxide should average no more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre over a year. These limits are regularly breached. By the end of January this year, London had reached its legal air pollution limit for the whole of 2018. Scientists say that even these limits are unsafe: the 30,000 deaths each year attributed to particulate pollution are due to exposure levels below the legal limit.

Getting into the zone

Many local authorities have been trying to tackle the issue by getting the most polluting vehicles out of their city centres.  As Traffic Technology International has noted:

“From Athens to Aberdeen, and from London to Ljubljana, there is an eclectic smorgasbord of initiatives with over 200 low emission zones (LEZ) around Europe excluding more polluting vehicles, and some cities employing road-user charging to deter vehicles from entering.”

In the UK, Glasgow is set to become Scotland’s first low emissions zone, while Oxford could become the world’s first zero emissions zone, which would exclude all non-electric vehicles from the city centre by 2035.

T Time in London

London has adopted especially ambitious goals to clean up the capital’s air. As of October 2017, older vehicles driving in London between 7am and 6pm have needed either to meet the minimum toxic emission standards (Euro 4/IV for both petrol and diesel vehicles and Euro 3 for motorised tricycles and quadricycles) or to pay an extra daily charge of £10.00 (in addition to the £11.50 Congestion Charge).

Air quality campaigners have welcomed this “T Charge”, but not everyone is happy. The Federation of Small Businesses has voiced concern that the charge will have a negative impact on small and micro-businesses that are already struggling with high property, employment and logistics costs. Shaun Bailey, a Conservative member of the Greater London Assembly, has described the T Charge – and the mayor’s plan to bring forward to 2019 the launch of London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) – as “vanity projects” that will have little effect on air quality.

National demands and local plans

London’s T Charge is one way of tackling air pollution, but there are other methods, such as retrofitting bus fleets, improving concessionary travel and supporting cyclists. Some UK cities are already taking action, while in Germany and Belgium, even more radical ideas are being mooted.

Last summer, the UK government set out its plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations. The document made it clear that local authorities have a leading role to play in achieving improvements in air quality.

By the end of this month, local authorities were expected to submit their own initial schemes for tackling the issue, with final plans to be submitted by December. The government promised support for councils, including a £255m Implementation Fund to help them prepare and deliver their plans, and the opportunity to bid for additional money from a Clean Air Fund.

It was hoped that these measures would lower the poisonous emissions. However, last month the High Court ruled that the government’s approach to tackling pollution was not sufficient, and ordered urgent changes. Even if the subsequent plan is accepted, many feel that the only sure way to solve the problem is to eliminate traffic from our cities. Others counter that this will damage the economy.

The battle of Britain’s air quality has only just begun.


Our previous articles on air quality include:

Test drives: around the world, driverless buses are taking to the streets

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Navya Driverless Shuttle Bus, Lyon. Photo: Navya-Technology.com

They may have a top speed of under 50 kilometres per hour, but driverless buses are moving into the fast lane of transport innovation. In recent months, cities around the world have been trialling automated bus services:

  • Driverless buses constructed by French technology firm Navya have started appearing on the roads of France, Switzerland, and Australia.
  • The “WePod”, developed by Delft Technical University has been carrying passengers to, from and around the campus of Wageningen University & Research centre in the Netherlands.

Auto-mobility

While Google have been grabbing most of the headlines to do with driverless vehicles, the French technology firm of Navya has been designing and producing autonomous cars since 2014. In October 2015, Navya launched its ARMA bus.

The ARMA does not require any driver or specific infrastructure, and has onboard sensors to avoid collisions. The electrically-powered vehicle is also environmentally friendly; its batteries can last from 5 to 13 hours, depending on the configuration and the traffic conditions.

The ARMA buses are not designed to replace mass-transit networks. With a capacity of no more than 15 passengers and speeds of no greater than 50 km per hour, the ARMA buses are designed to cover short distances, following distinct routes that avoid heavy traffic. However, they could prove ideal for locations such as airports and conference centres. Since the beginning of September, the ARMA buses have been carrying passengers on ten-minute journeys through the futuristic Confluence district of Lyon. And Navya shuttle buses are also ferrying workers and visitors around the EDF power plant in Civaux, The driverless service replaced a diesel bus, cutting waiting time down from 15 to 5 minutes. EDF estimates the time savings could result in as much as 3 million euros’ worth of extra productivity.

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Navya Driverless Shuttle Bus,EDF, Civaux. Photo: Navya-Technology.com

Going Dutch

Driverless buses called “WePods” have taken to the public roads as part of a pilot project in the Dutch province of Gelderland.

The project managers see numerous possibilities for the autonomous vehicles, such as on-demand pick-up services, filling public transport gaps in rural areas and provision of garbage collections. Ultimately, driverless buses could help solve urban parking problems and increase road capacity. And because around 70% of public transport costs are due to personnel costs, the WEpods could also save transport authorities money.

Addressing concerns

Naturally, concerns have been raised about the safety of driverless vehicles. The truth is that no type of transport is 100% safe. Even though driverless vehicles have sensors, cameras, radar and lasers to prevent collisions, accidents caused by human-driven vehicles will still happen.

However, the designers of driverless vehicles are adopting a safety-first culture.  In many of the vehicles, data is stored in the equivalent of an aircraft’s “black box”, enabling lessons to be learned from incidents taking place during the journey.

Fast forward

The trend towards driverless buses shows no sign of slowing down. In 2015, a self-driving bus took passengers on a 20-mile journey through the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. In Kista, north-west of Stockholm, members of the public were invited to test-ride driverless buses as part of the town’s April 2016 mobility week. And in August 2016, trials of automated buses took place in the Finnish capital of Helsinki.

With regard to automated transport, it seems that the stuff of science fiction is fast becoming a matter of fact.


If you’ve enjoyed this blog post, you might also like some of our other posts focusing on transport:

Idox: enabling transformation, collaboration and improvement

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If you follow this blog regularly then you’ll know that we write on all areas of public and social policy. What you might not realise though is that our Knowledge Exchange team is just one part of a much wider business – Idox – providing specialist information and data solutions and services.

I’ve been working with Idox for about four years, but I’m still topping-up my knowledge about the organisation. Last week, at the company’s end-of-year get-together, my brain was like an overworked sponge as it tried to absorb a multitude of facts, figures and achievements during two days of workshops and presentations (to say nothing of the informal chats in between the working sessions).

From this wealth of information, I’ve compiled a selection that I think conveys a flavour of the depth and diversity of Idox today.

Ten things you might not know about Idox…

  1. The Reading Room, which is the newest addition to the Idox family of companies, has developed digital solutions for a wide range of customers, including Porsche and Clarence House, and this year developed a virtual reality test drive app for Skoda.
  2. Idox’s recently-launched iApply service enables planning applications and building control consent to be applied for via a single source, streamlining the application process.
  3. The Idox GRANTFinder policy and grants database contains details of over 8000 funding opportunities.
  4. Real-time information delivered by Idox’s Cloud Amber keeps the travelling public up-to-date about transport services and helps manage traffic congestion.
  5. The Idox group currently employs almost 600 people in over 10 countries, including the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, India and Australia.
  6. The Idox Elections service not only ensured the smooth management of postal voting for the 2015 UK general election, but has also supported delivery of local authority and community council elections in the UK, as well as this year’s local elections in Norway.
  7. Idox has a strong presence in the compliance sector, raising awareness among managers and employees of the importance of complying with regulations, from corruption prevention and data privacy to occupational safety and cybersecurity.
  8. Idox Engineering Information Management, provides critical engineering document management and control applications to the oil and gas, mining, pharmaceutical and transport industries in 50 countries.
  9. CAFM Explorer, Idox’s computer aided facilities management software, supports building maintenance and property management for organisations in 45 countries, and recently partnered with the Hippodrome to help maintain one of London’s most popular attractions.
  10. From food safety monitoring to licensing taxis, Idox’s regulatory services help local authorities enforce the rules that keep us safe.

One more thing…

Finally, the meeting reminded me of one thing I already knew, and it’s to do with the part of Idox where I work – the Knowledge Exchange.

Over breakfast on the second morning, a colleague from McLaren talked about the difficulties in finding the right information on the web. Search engines only go so far, he said, providing too little or too much. This is where skilled intermediaries, such as Idox’s team of Research Officers, can make a difference, identifying, sorting and presenting information that people can use to make decisions, support arguments and advance their businesses.

The Idox event was an enjoyable, if exhausting, couple of days, and it demonstrated the many ways in which the company is supporting public, private and third sector work.

Clearly, there’s much more to learn about Idox.


Our popular Ask-a-Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Travel planning for greener, cleaner journeys

Parking for bicyclesOur latest “In Focus” briefing looks at travel planning. You can download the briefing for free from The Knowledge Exchange website

by James Carson

A travel plan is a package of measures aimed at promoting greener, cleaner travel choices and reducing reliance on the car. The measures can include incentives to encourage walking and cycling, promotion of public transport and the development of car-sharing clubs. Continue reading