Oxford wants to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles from its city centre in three years’ time. We look at the wider implications for fleets.

October 2017 may eventually be regarded as something of a turning point in the long history of cleaning up the air in cities.

London’s new toxicity or ‘T’ charge currently affects vehicles registered before 2005 (which are charged £10 on top of the £11.50 Congestion Charge to drive in Central London). But London intends to charge all pre-Euro 6 diesels from 2019 onwards, and then greatly increase the size of the T-charge zone in 2021.

Oxford wants to go further. On 11 October the city proposed banning petrol and diesel vehicles from the city centre. If approved, the ban would be extended in phases, starting on selected streets in 2020. The centre would become an EV and hybrid-only zone by 2035.

Getting tough

It’s over 60 years since Parliament passed the landmark Clean Air Act to cut down coal-burning in cities in the wake of the so-called Great Smog of 1952, when 4,000 Londoners died. Today the issue is nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from vehicles. Together with minute particles in diesel exhaust, high levels of NOx create invisible but health-damaging smog along heavily-used roads.

Air pollution allegedly contributes to up to 40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK – although this is actually a hypothetical figure that equates to dying at most a week or two early assuming an 80-year lifespan.

Vehicle pollution has been reduced by tightening-up emissions standards. Euro 6, the standard since 2015, effectively requires manufacturers to fit AdBlue injection systems to all diesels to cut their NOx emissions. But 90% of diesels registered in the UK are pre-Euro 6 – hence the moves by London, Oxford and, soon no doubt, other cities to discourage or outright ban older combustion vehicles.

Grey fleet today. Your fleet tomorrow

Having said that, the T-Charge in London will have a negligible effect on fleets at first. Only vehicles with a 54 or earlier plate – i.e. those over 12 years old – have to pay the £10 surcharge. A very small number of grey fleet drivers will be affected if they cannot avoid driving in Central London, but that’s about all.

The London charge will quickly evolve, however. In 18 months’ time, the centre becomes an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and all pre-Euro 6 diesels will have to pay to enter it. That will affect some fleet vehicles and it will certainly catch grey fleet diesels on 64 or earlier plates. Even then, it won’t be terribly bad news for grey fleet diesel drivers. If they don’t want to trade up to a newer diesel, any petrol car registered since 2005 will still avoid the charge after 2019.

But it is 2021 that fleets operating into London need to keep an eye on. Transport for London (TfL) is currently consulting on plans to extend the ULEZ to the North and South Circular Roads. That will hugely increase the number of journeys where vehicles will either have to pay to enter the zone or clock up extra miles to drive around it. So the relatively innocuous T-Charge launched in 2017 can be seen to be the thin end of a very large wedge.

How we can help

Charges, restrictions and outright bans on certain types of vehicle are coming to a growing number of UK cities. It’s the kind of trend that starts “slowly at first then all at once.” One year there’s little to worry about; the next you’re regretting fleet policy choices that could add thousands of pounds a year to the cost of some of your routes.

TMC can help your fleet and business prepare for the scenarios we see developing.

For example, grey fleet drivers are most likely to be the first hit by air pollution charges. As well as ensuring owner-drivers have all the right documentation for business driving, our TMC Visa to Drive service can help you identify employees whose cars would incur charges so they can be advised about their options.

Electric vehicles and many hybrids are already exempt from the London Congestion Charge. They will almost certainly escape future T-charges. The difficulty is working out when, where and how to replace combustion cars and LCVs cost-effectively with EVs. TMC’s huge database of real-world fuel and mileage costs simplifies the task of comparing diesel vs. petrol vs. ultra-low emission vehicles and identifies which vehicles could be replaced with ULEVs.

Where plug-ins are the right choice, we have partnerships with experts in EVs and charging infrastructure to help our customers implement their strategy when the time is right.

If Oxford does press ahead with its rolling ban on combustion vehicles, and other cities follow suit, that time could arrive sooner than many people expect.