Several UK cities are set to introduce new “clean air zones”, with accompanying charges for motorists during the forthcoming year.
So, the government has launched a new website enabling motorists to check whether their vehicle will be able to enter the zones for free, or whether they will face charges to do so.
However, the clean air zone checking tool may have a few teething issues.
During 2020 Leeds and Birmingham will join London in providing clean air zones. The principle is simple – any vehicle not meeting certain emissions criteria will be charged for driving within the zone.
The aim is to encourage motorists either to use public transport or switch to cleaner new and used cars with lower emissions or cleaner and greener technologies.
The new website has been set up to allow motorists to enter their vehicle details and check to see if it passes the relevant criteria on emissions as well as informing the motorist if they will face a penalty charge for entering these clean air zones.
However, studies by motoring bodies including the RAC discovered some glitches in the new system, leading to inaccurate results and false information.
For example, the checker reports that certain vehicles which meet Euro 6 diesel standards can drive in London’s zone without penalty but are also told they will be penalised when driving in Birmingham. Given that the zones operate to the same standards, this is a clear anomaly.
Motorists have been advised to input their details at a later date to confirm compliance, presumably allowing for changes and fixes to the online checking tool.
It’s also worth noting that a number plate is not a 100% reliable way to determine your vehicle’s emissions, with motorists also urged to check with their manufacturer.
The introduction of clean air zones is a welcome environmental boost, but it could come at a severe cost for some drivers of new and used cars. Some may not be able to afford a newer or cleaner vehicle or be able to use public transport routinely, and thus they will be impacted by daily charges.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that it’s not just private motorists that are affected – Leeds is aiming to introduce a charging zone for older private hire or goods vehicles, as well as some buses, while Birmingham may extend penalties to goods vehicles and taxis in due course.
Around £60 million of funding has been made available to businesses, the motor trade and public transport hubs in these cities to support changes to cleaner vehicles, but this is unlikely to make a huge difference in the short term.
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Other UK cities such as Sheffield and Bath are also looking to implement cleaner air zones in the near future, so it’s imperative that ongoing support and advice is available to all motorists and business owners.
With Boris Johnson recently announcing that the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles could now be brought forward to 2035, it’s clear that the UK needs to invest heavily in this sector.
Clean air zones are a tremendous boost to the environment and may well produce welcome spin-off effects in our ailing high streets.
However, the current prohibitive costs of electric vehicles, a high insurance policy cost for some and lack of charging infrastructure means that we may still see a considerable amount of older, polluting vehicles using our city centres for the foreseeable future.