Monday, April 29, 2019

Low Emission and Congestion Zones Are a Pigs Breakfast Across Europe

Road Haulage Group Criticises UK Authorities But They Are Not Alone
Shipping News Feature
UK – EUROPE – If an ardent Brexiteer wanted an argument to illustrate their cause it seems they wouldn’t go far wrong if they pointed out the anomalies which exist for drivers when it comes to vision standards plus low emission and congestion zones. This week the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has illustrated the concerns over anomalies in the UK but this is a situation found across the EU and beyond.

Whilst the EU has mandatory rules on many parameters for commercial and private vehicles this disguises the self-interest political groups in urban areas which raise individual schemes for their particular region, a tactic many drivers see as simply a trap to make money for the relevant authorities.

The main concern however is the disparity in regulations between cities, wherever they are. A quick look at the ‘Dates and Standards’ section for Paris for example shows 32 lines of changing regulations for vehicles travelling in between 2017 and 2024 as regards windscreen sticker requirements when in the three low emission zones, plus a raft of other regulations allowing driving only in certain hours of the day.

Compare the demands of Athens, Hamburg and Naples, or indeed any of the other hundreds of European cities affected, and you will begin to understand that the authorities, whilst tailoring solutions to their own particular requirements, have created an administrative monster for a truck driver passing through a series of European countries.

French regulations, among others, demand vehicles all carry a Certificats qualité de I’air (Crit’Air) sticker whilst the UK schemes rely on ANPR technology to log offenders whose registration plates have not been advised to them. All say foreign vehicles have to register as they cannot trace them if they fail to do so yet this is patently untrue as offenders from abroad frequently receive inflated penalty notices in their home countries if they drive without registering, certainly from Transport for London (TfL).

In the UK most native drivers are aware of both the Congestion Charge and the LEZ and ULEZ, however now other cities are introducing a rag bag of individual schemes with varying rates and penalties for non-compliance. Leeds, for example, will start charging up to £50 per day to lorries, buses and taxis from January 2020 after getting government approval, and a £29 million grant, to clean the inner city air.

Meanwhile Manchester, along with 60 or so other local authorities, were served noticed by the government earlier this year that they must take steps to reduce pollution, prompting plans for a clean air zone, complete with fines for non-compliant vehicles, something a plethora of the others are studying if not introducing, apparently with no consistency from any of them in vehicle requirements, charge rates or penalty amounts.

Whilst authorities like Nottingham say that the measures they have taken make a penalty charge regime unnecessary (replacing the council fleet plus buses and taxis with less polluting vehicles), in London more than 43% of the UK HGV fleet will be liable for charges when the London Mayor’s expanded LEZ comes into force next year. Under that scheme Euro IV and V trucks will be charged £100 a day to enter the capital, and Euro III trucks and older will pay £300.

The problem for haulage operators trying simply to deliver vital supplies is not just confined to the major authority. In September 2018 the RHA complained bitterly at the unilateral decision by Hackney and Islington councils to ban petrol and diesel vehicles from a number of streets in the two London boroughs, with £130 fines for ignoring the ruling.

The latest RHA ire has been brought on by locally created safety standards regulating haulage, this time the controversial Direct Vision Standard (DVS) which categorises HGVs by a driver’s vision from the cab. Changes have already been made to mirror regulations for trucks operating in London, now it seems TfL wants to see cabs redesigned to incorporate better all-round vision, not an undesirable object, but obviously only practically obtainable if all vehicles are designed thus, and only new trucks are on the roads or fitted with approved camera technology.

A consultation undertaken last year arrived at the unsurprising conclusion regarding vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists etc.) that ‘92% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the amount that drivers could see should be improved to reduce road risk’, hardly likely that any sane person would disagree.

The solution however must at least lie partially with more sensible behaviour by those most at risk, no matter how good the vision there will always be blind spots, no driver can observe every point shown on a series of screens whilst still driving safely. RHA chief executive said:

“We fully support the drive to improve safety, but we need the right measures delivered in the right way. DVS and other locally devised policies such as clean air zone charging are a huge concern for an industry which needs and deserves cohesive regulation.”

A link to the next phase of the consultation regarding DVS in London can be reached from HERE.

Photo: Courtesy of TfL.