ULEZ – we don’t want special treatment but fair treatment

Posted by Mark Williams on | No Comments
ULEZ – we don’t want special treatment but fair treatment Every passenger in every car and taxi in this photo would fit in just one of the coaches caught in the jam. So why are coaches being penalised in a congestion charging zone?

If Sadiq Khan gets his way, as it seems he will, the Ultra Low Emission Zone will force thousands of coach tourists and visitors out of London in 2019.

It’s quite simple; if you don’t have a Euro 6 coach, you’ll pay £100 or perhaps £200 a time to the Mayor to get into the Congestion Charging Zone and, despite a backlash from operators, from associations and from learned scientists, it doesn’t look as if Sadiq Khan will relent.

London-based operators have had little option but to upgrade their fleets – some of which were upgraded less than two years ago to Euro 5. This may be financially painful enough when almost all of your business is done in the capital, but for the rest of England, Euro 6 costs to run a dozen day trips is simply unaffordable. Either passengers will have to pay £2 or even £4 a head extra or, more likely, provincial operators will become uncompetitive in London and simply not get the business.

The warnings from coach operators that this policy discriminates against some of the cleanest vehicles in the capital – delivering people for perhaps 200 passenger miles per gallon – seems to fall on deaf ears, largely because diesel pumps might just as well have two red horns and a barbed tail; diesel’s universally seen as a ‘dirty’ fuel.

Of course, the decision for many provincial operators may now be even more difficult. The government is encouraging cities throughout the UK to create Clean Air Zones, and adopt similar policies to London. Utilising ANPR technology, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton are slated to adopt Clean Air Zones aimed at charging coaches, buses, lorries and taxis but not private motorists. This is despite evidence that cars are one of the most significant sources of NOx and particulate pollution.

Actually, the evidence is an indictment of virtually every transport mode EXCEPT coaches.

Actually, the evidence is an indictment of virtually every transport mode EXCEPT coaches. TfL’s own figures, from its report Transport Emissions Roadmap, in 2014, identifies clearly that coaches contribute only 2% of London’s NOx emissions (2010 figures). Mysteriously, the 2014 stats released recently bump coaches’ contribution up to 6%, though how emissions have trebled is not accounted for. In any case, the report does not make any attempt to quantify how many people travelled by coach in London, and so is rendered an almost worthless statistic.

These figures alone show that buses contributed four times as much NOx, lorries six times as much, cars nine times as much, and even rail contributed four times more NOx to London’s pollution. London taxis contributed the same, 2%, of London’s transport emissions; yet these rarely carry more than one passenger. Until TfL takes the trouble to do the maths, and work out which passenger journey contributes most, the discussion is mired in a debate about machines, not people.

Until TfL takes the trouble to do the maths, and work out which passenger journey contributes most, the discussion is mired in a debate about machines, not people.

When we examine emissions of PM10s (‘soot’ less than 10 microns, which reaches deep into lungs and cause serious disease), the coach is further exonerated. Coaches in London contribute 1% of PM10s – the same as motorcycles. Cars contribute a massive 28% of PM10s and goods vehicles 13%. Once again, TfL has neither the wit nor wisdom to include per-passenger figures.

The omission of proper calculations for emissions created by passenger journeys is either an oversight or a deliberate attempt by TfL, or London boroughs perhaps, to create the case against coaches. Harsh? They have form.

TfL and London local authorities are notoriously sniffy about coach travel in London generally. London consistently ignores the service coaches provide bringing huge numbers of tourists from the London airports, coach trips which furnish theatres with perhaps a fifth of all their customers, and the millions of safe journeys made to attractions, lining the pockets of London’s leisure businesses.

The coach industry is rarely on their radar, and they do not care if its passengers are caught up in a legislative framework unfairly, forced to pay higher fares to no useful purpose. The reason for that is simple; most coach operators using the capital do not vote in London boroughs, whereas any action taken against London motorists or taxi drivers is felt in the ballot box.

The Mayor must understand, however, that the burden of these additional costs do not fall on coach operators, but on the people they serve; the thousands of commuters who use them, the tourists the capital claims to clamour for, and increasing numbers of elderly, young and disabled people who have no other option but to travel by coach.

It is, frankly, a disgrace that the coach industry and its passengers are made a whipping boy, caught up in the crossfire through ignorance or negligence. I sincerely hope that those other cities planning Clean Air Zones treat coaches better. The industry is not asking for special treatment, but for fair treatment.

  • Bus & Coach Buyer has now published a special investigation into the effect of Mayor Khan’s new plans for ULEZ, and the plans for Clean Air Zones in other cities. Open the ‘virtual issue’ dated 21 July, available on this website.

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