Monday, June 26, 2017
On behalf of all drivers in the UK, here is our take on the emissions saga! Written by lead spokesman for FairFuelUK, TV broadcaster and motoring journalist, Quentin Willson and published in the Evening Standard 28th June 2017

"As you despair at the angry rhetoric dividing our country right now you might have missed another line of division that’s fast approaching – the enforced decline of the passenger car. The recent hysterical diesel debate and the latest London Mayor’s Transport Strategy both paint a grim picture for the future of car-based mobility.  By 2041 Sadiq Khan wants 80% of all London journeys to be by public transport, cycling or walking and a zero emission London by 2050.  Passenger cars make up 36% of all London journeys and his vision is to reduce those journeys to a car-free low carbon London within 33 years. A bold (and well-intentioned) utopian vision that’s going to require hundreds of billions spent on the capital’s creaking public transport system and a massive modal shift by millions of consumers to give up their cars. TfL is suggesting road charging system based on use and pollution that could work if it was fairly and transparently enforced and the current Congestion Charge scrapped. 

At FairFuelUK we’re nothing if not reasonable and have always supported electric and low emission cars (FairFuelUK’s founder Howard Cox and I both drive hybrids and EVs) plus we support any proven retrofit technology that could reduce tailpipe pollution.  But we’re anxious that accurate facts are presented to ensure we get the correct legislation to help with clean air and congestion. Because here’s the thing: if we get this wrong and don’t significantly improve urban air quality our children will never forgive us. We’ve seen enough unintended consequences of the poor government policies that made 50% of us switch to diesel and transport planning decisions that have brought London to a choking fuming standstill and can’t let this happen again. We have to do this right first time and there’s a tearing urgency to the endeavour. We have to base any legislation only on facts rather than innuendo, class division or Green evangelism.

To clean up our urban air we need to take the 34 million UK drivers with us. But nowhere in The Mayor’s Transport Strategy can I find any incentives for consumers to change their behaviour. The modal shift from cars will be driven by extra costs through taxation and road and zone restrictions. Simply put there will be places in London where you won’t be able to use or park a car at all and other places where you’ll have to pay for ever mile you travel. There’s no mention of concessions for EV drivers who could have free parking, bus lane use or even road priorities. TfL have been practicing a car-reduction strategy for a long time - also with unintended consequences. 260 diesel buses an hour on Oxford Street hasn’t helped NOx and PM10 pollution (16% from buses in the centre of London) and adding 175,000 Private Hire Vehicle licenses for the new army of Uber drivers has just added 18,000 extra cars a day to an already long and winding traffic jam. Narrowing of roads and the Cycle Super Highway has also slowed traffic flow (stationary traffic produces four times more emissions) and increased pedestrian-level pollution. London’s road system is the most congested its ever been. 

At FairFuelUK we worry that targeting passenger car drivers, (a relatively narrow band of polluters at 11% of NOx) won’t make a significant difference to the air Londoner’s breathe.  According to the London Assembly Environment Committee, gas central heating produces 16% of NOx, domestic wood burning 12% of PM10s, diesel vans 5% of NOx, rail 8% of NOx, diesel plant and machinery 14% of NOx and ground-based aviation 8% of NOx. And you can add shipping, HGVs, industrial combustion, air conditioning and planes to a list of other polluters that get scant mention in the diesel debate. And while we’re on the subject of ships this may surprise you as much as it did me. The London Port Authority who oversees the 50 million tonnes of cargo passing through the tidal Thames every year has ‘no calculations from emissions of pollutants’. That’s diesel-powered ships remember with diesel generators that run 24/7 when they’re in port.  The LPA are doing an emissions audit but this is a potentially very large source of diesel emissions that we should have measured by now.     

Tyres and brakes of all vehicles generate over 50% of particulate matter that stays on the road and is repeatedly swirled up into the atmosphere from all traffic movements. What are we doing about that and why haven’t we found technological solutions to clean our road surfaces of dangerous recycled particulate matter?  You simply won’t make the real difference we desperately need to London’s air unless we look at this considerable range of other polluters and stop shifting all responsibility onto passenger cars. That’s far too lazy, predictable and wrong.  Nowhere am I seeing any bold scientific strategy to address these other significant sources of ultra-fine particles, NOx and NO2. 

And here’s something else I don’t understand: if TfL says that passenger car use in London has actually declined 10% since 2001 how can cars alone be the cause of so much increased pollution? It simply doesn’t add up. And there’s another worry to all this. If we don’t apply some proper world-class science to the air quality debate, London’s faulted Transport Strategy may be repeated by the boroughs, used as a template by councils in other cities across the UK and be driven forward by reactive legislation from central government.  And if that happens we’ll have lost an historic opportunity to really improve our air and the 34 million drivers in the UK will never take the social vision of improving air quality seriously again.  And that’s why FairFuelUK is calling for an Air Quality Working Party, free from vested interests, to scientifically determine where the greatest levels of particulate and nitrogen dioxide pollutants really come from and how to reduce them in the short to medium term. We owe it to London, we owe it to the rest or the country but most of all we owe it to the health and future of the next generation.” 

Quentin Willson, FairFuelUK, TV Motoring Journalist and Broadcaster

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