High-polluting cars will be charged to enter central Birmingham under new plans which mark a major step towards reducing congestion and air pollution in the city.
The Council’s business case to tackle air pollution – which was approved by the Cabinet for consultation on Tuesday – will help lower pollution by discouraging people from driving into the city in private cars, the biggest source of harmful roadside emissions.
The Council’s decision to not charge low-emission Euro VI buses to enter the clean air zone will also help to tackle the growing problem of congestion in Birmingham. The latest Government figures show that the number of miles travelled by cars in the area reached 3 billion in 2016, compared with 2.8 billion in 2010, with a 3.4% increase in the total number of cars on the road.
Greener Journeys, the sustainable transport group, has welcomed Birmingham’s steps to reduce congestion and pollution by introducing measures to encourage people to leave their cars at home and ensuring that clean, modern buses don’t have to pay to enter the zone.
Claire Haigh, the Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, said: “We welcome the decision of Birmingham Council to include charging cars in their Clean Air Zone. Measures such as charging dirty diesel cars are a step in the right direction of reducing congestion and tackling our air quality crisis.
“If Clean Air Zones are to be effective, they must include the biggest polluters and they must tackle congestion. A modern, diesel double-decker bus can take 75 cars off the road, helping to solve both pollution and congestion problems across our cities.
“We urge the Government to do more to support Councils in their efforts to tackle pollution and congestion. It should end the freeze in fuel duty which has led to a 4% growth in traffic since 2011.”
Birmingham Council is among 33 local authorities which have been ordered to investigate and identify measures to tackle illegal levels of air pollution. They have until December to publish their final plans.
Air pollution is a growing public health problem causing up to 50,000 early deaths a year in the UK, and the World Health Organisation has calculated that people in the UK are 64 times more likely to die from air pollution as those in Sweden, and twice as likely as those in the USA.
Diesel cars are the single biggest contributor to NOx emissions on the road, accounting for 41% of all emissions from road transport compared with 6% for buses and coaches. Congestion makes this problem worse, with NOx emissions four times greater in nose-to-tail traffic than they are in free flow traffic.
Real-world testing of modern, diesel Euro VI buses – and those retrofitted to this standard – demonstrates that they are 95% cleaner than previous models and emit fewer emissions overall than the average diesel Euro 6 car despite having 15 to 20 times the capacity.
Congestion in the UK’s largest cities is 14% worse than five years ago and traffic speeds in city centres are forecast to fall by almost 5mph from 17mph to an average of 12mph by 2030, and significantly slower in peak hours, according to a recent report by Greener Journeys.
However, the Government has resisted increasing fuel duty, which could help lower congestion by discouraging motorists from driving. The Treasury’s own figures show that the ongoing fuel duty freeze cost the exchequer an estimated £46 billion between 2011 and 2019 – more than twice the amount spent on NHS doctors and nurses each year.