If the short debate at City of York Council is a gauge of the Clean Air Zone debate elsewhere, the coach and bus industry needs to redouble its efforts to connect with local democracy.
While the council had been presented with a ‘softer’ option of gradual introduction of higher emissions limits, it plumped for the most aggressive, essentially on the basis that Oxford has got away with it for years. Operators will, of course, cope with this but the losers will be bus passengers, who will at best see fares rise, at worst see services cut, or may find themselves subsidising services through their council tax.
The authors of the report on which CYC has based its plans are only partially to blame for this outcome. They pointed out the huge costs of implementation, cautioned that services might be lost and tried to present a more imaginative option. That said, the report also fails dismally to focus on the important part of inner-city traffic – the people within it.
Typically, more than half of all inner-city pollution is caused by cars and vans, and around a quarter by buses and coaches. But this is not even half the picture. Congestion is the main cause of elevated levels of pollution, created by excessive use of cars, not buses – cars which are at least ten times more polluting per person than buses.
Councils consistently fail to focus on people. No city street ‘needs’ vehicles but they all need people. People to work, shop and in York’s case enjoy the tourist attractions. The problem is solved by getting them on to buses and coaches. To its credit, York has adopted EVs for its Park & Ride service but to its shame, barely mentions cars in its CAZ plans. And why would they, given the number of voters carried within those cars?
Make absolutely no mistake, CAZs will roll out beyond the handful of cities already slated. Until the industry becomes more forceful in getting key messages across at local government level, in every town or city, it is destined to be the whipping boy for populist, gesture politics.