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  • Mar 15, 2021

  • 5 min read


The rise of Clean Air Zones

Bath’s new Clean Air Zone (CAZ) will become England’s first operational CAZ outside of London following findings that showed Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels in several parts of the city exceeded the legal limit. Transport’s contribution to these dangerous NO2 levels was higher than the national average and, in the broader Bath and North East Somerset region, vehicle movements are thought to be responsible for up to 92% of total Nitrogen Oxides (NOX) concentration. Reducing the number of internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEs) travelling into the city centre is therefore critically important in helping reduce these worrying levels of pollution.

Eligibility criteria, and how this compares to elsewhere in England

Bath’s CAZ will be in operation 24/7, 365 days a year. Although taxis, private hire vehicles, minibuses, buses/coaches, LGVs and HGVs (with a Euro 1-5/V diesel or a Euro 1-3 petrol engine) will all have to pay to enter the zone, private cars and motorbikes will not be charged, regardless of their emissions. Based on this criteria, it’s estimated that the charges will apply to around 200,000 journeys in the first year of operation.

Importantly, the fee charged for entering the zone varies depending on the type of vehicle being driven, with more polluting vehicles having to pay a larger fee - £100/day for buses, coaches and HGVs, compared to £9/day for smaller vehicles such as taxis.

Compared to London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), first launched in April 2019, Bath’s new initiative isn’t as hard hitting. Arguably the biggest point of difference is around the eligibility of private vehicles. In London, any car that doesn’t meet the minimum criteria of a Euro 4 engine for a petrol vehicle and Euro 6 engine for a diesel vehicle has to pay a £12.50 fee. In Bath, diesel vehicles (including cars) contributed the most to NOX concentration, and therefore the exemption of private diesel cars from the new fee is somewhat surprising.

Why is reducing harmful emissions in urban areas so important, and do measures such as the Bath Clean Air Zone have a positive impact?

In the UK there is a very real issue around levels of air pollution in towns and cities. The EU’s court of justice recently found that levels of N02 remain illegally high in 75% of urban areas.

From a health perspective, high levels of air pollution is worrying. In Bath and North East Somerset for example, 12,000 people suffer from asthma, and we know that high levels of pollution can trigger attacks. More broadly, recent research by the British Lung Foundation and Asthma UK found that about six million people aged over 65 are at high risk of lung damage and asthma attacks because of toxic air.

We know that the introduction of financial penalties for driving vehicles in urban areas has an impact on people’s behaviour and business’s decisions. In Bath, local bus operator First West is already looking to make their entire fleet Euro 6 compliant, which they say will help reduce air pollutants and harmful emissions by up to 95% per vehicle.

In London, since plans for the ULEZ were announced in 2017, there are 44,100 fewer polluting cars driving in the zone every day, with NO2 levels reducing by 44%. The ULEZ has also saved around 12,300 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Over the same time period, there was a 96% increase in the proportion of vehicles in the zone that complied with ULEZ standards.

People taking fewer trips in their polluting vehicles is of course important, but we’ve also witnessed a change in people’s buying preferences when it comes to looking for their next car. At Octopus Electric Vehicles, we’ve seen many cases of people considering the switch to an electric vehicle (EV) because of London’s ULEZ, both in areas where it is currently in operation and also areas where it is set to expand to later this year. For our Powerloop trial, which is based in the south-east of England, the influence of London’s ULEZ on people looking to switch to an EV has been especially noticeable.

On a national scale, it’s clear that more people are considering switching to an EV. 2020 saw a 185.9% increase in EV registrations compared to the previous year, and a recent survey found that 63% of drivers are considering an EV for their next car. With initiatives similar to the one in Bath becoming more common (for example in Birmingham, where a CAZ was launched at the beginning of June this year) and potentially more stringent, it’s highly likely that more people will seriously consider switching to an EV.