Banning diesel from the capital?

Written by: Justin Cunningham | Published:
It seems extraordinary that policy decisions are being made with little or no reference to old ...

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It’s happened. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has put a tariff on vehicles made prior to 2006 driving in the capital. It means those vehicles travelling within the effected zone – the same as the Congestion Charge Zone – will have to pay an additional £10 for the pleasure, in addition to the Congestion Charge and the astronomical parking fees.

It was in our September issue that we predicted the move and the beginning of the end for the combustion engine. It will be interesting to see the affect it has on local air quality. Will it make a difference? I predict not, either to the volume of traffic or to emission levels. The fact is, 2017 vehicles are not that much cleaner.

London is also hugely affluent and the proportion of regular visitors to the centre of the capital in a 2006 car or older is likely to be minuscule. And if you do own a pre-2006 car, selling the old one and swapping to a 2007 model is likely to pay for itself in a relatively short period.

So, what is this? I believe it is political manoeuvring for something far more bold. Politicians and engineers are increasingly at odds over CO2 emissions, regulations, targets and penalties. Politicians hold engineers in high regard, no doubt. But there is a general feeling that perhaps they pushed the engineering community a little too hard and put in place penalties that were too stiff for industry to cope with. The result, was that engineers felt forced to meet the letter of the regulations, rather than the spirit of them; hence Dieselgate.

Back to London, however, this announcement is a prelim towards a much bigger policy announcement, which will be the complete ban of diesel engines in the capital. The trouble is, electric powertrains are not yet mature enough to take all the trade and commercial diesel vans off the road. If this does happen though, it will make a huge difference to air quality. I feel it is only a matter of time and my prediction is from 2020 London will be diesel free. Before then, it’s vital engineers convey the practicalities and realities to ensure any move is achievable and no loopholes exist that could potentially be exploited.

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It seems extraordinary that policy decisions are being made with little or no reference to old fashioned stuff like facts and remarkably little interest in the major environmental issue - global warming. It was the CO2 advantages of diesel vehicle operation [and in the production of the fuel] that led to their encouragement. Some diesels produce more NOx than petrol powered vehicles; central heating boilers in London produce as much NOx as diesel vehicles [even assuming modern design and well maintained]; most recent diesel vehicles fitted with filters produce less particulates than many petrol engine vehicles; NB worth looking at the particulate levels in the London Underground system if breathing particulates is of concern; hybrid vehicles have problems keeping catalysts hot [and hence emissions of various sorts under control]; etc In fact all engineers know that there are no panaceas out there. The CO2 footprint just for producing complex new vehicles is far from trivial. Apart from anything else the sheer arrogance of our leaders in just assuming that, like themselves, everyone has the means to just get rid of their old technology and replace it. I would hope that publications such as Eureka would at least champion a balanced and fact based set of arguments.
The real villains are the diesel cars, not heavy vehicles. Some Euro 6 diesel cars emit 18 times the limit on real driving (source: ICCT). The regulators have been complicit in allowing them to literally switch off their anti-NOx features outside the test lab. But the heavy diesel engines (on and off road) are certified differently and are not able to cheat. The result is that heavy diesels emit a tenth of the NOx per kw-hr produced than cars. We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater - force the cars to conform first before targeting the heavy engines which are already conforming.
It would appear Mr khan is after some 'clean' votes... applying this tariff is pointless. As you say, if your are a regular visitor, just swap for a 2007 or later model, (for something probably more smutty and smoky at the same time) to get around it. If he eventually applies this to all diesel cars, he going to lose a huge number of visitors to the capitol and that will only affect the trade, so I wonder how long it will be before the commercial sector kicks his butt? Hmm... watch this space.

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