The news that the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) hourly legal limit for all of 2016 was breached just eight days into the year is the reason I spoke to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, last week during his LBC phone-in about his plans to clean up London’s transport.
London’s air quality is the biggest environmental threat facing the city this year. And it is an issue that will be central to the forthcoming Mayoral election.
Transport for London have already done a lot of work on providing solutions for this issue - not least the introduction of hybrid electric taxis from 2018 which are an essential aspect to improving the quality of our air. But they are not the only solution and at an estimated £60k, could prove to be too expensive for many drivers.
Currently London’s cabbies can convert their polluting diesel taxis to LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) in return for a five year extension to their operating licence.
TfL has indicated that the incentives for these conversions may stop in the near future, just as London’s air quality is reaching critical levels.
A properly deployed plan to convert targeted sections of London’s taxi fleet to LPG will help clean up London more quickly and save cabbies’ money in the long run.
To help manage the immediate air quality crisis, there is a strong argument for TfL to extend their existing policy throughout 2016 and 2017 - allowing black cabs to convert to Euro 6 LPG autogas engines in return for a five year extension to their licence. All the emissions research points to immediate huge reductions in Nitrogen Dioxide and other harmful emissions, allowing TfL to deliver improved air quality over the next two years, before the implementation of the Ultra Low Emission Zone in 2018.
From 2018, politicians, policy makers and the industry will be encouraging black cabs to take advantage of TfL’s subsidy to convert to hybrid electric vehicles.
But the brutal reality is the subsidy for electric cabs will not cover all of the existing fleet, leaving a large number of cabbies to fully fund the electric solution themselves.
And as things stand, TfL’s current plans mean that without the LPG conversion option many taxis will be allowed to continue running on diesel well beyond 2020.
Cabbies are working in an ever more competitive post-Uber market and many will feel they can no longer afford to continue working.
In order to maintain the number of black cabs post 2018, TfL should also offer cabbies additional, more affordable options such as LPG to supplement the 9000+ electric cabs.
LPG is a much cleaner fuel than diesel and petrol and offers a solution which can be deployed now, without the need for subsidy, as cabbies will get a payback on their £8000 investment within 2 years - meaning cleaner air for London, in a shorter timeframe and for less money.
But separate from the reduction in emissions, London’s cabs will once again show the world they are leading the world in cleaner taxi technology, TfL will maintain fleet numbers, a competitive and fairer marketplace and also benefit from licence fee income.
Other cities are already taking the lead. The Labour controlled Birmingham City Council is supporting the conversion of its taxis from diesel to cleaner LPG, whilst in Japan, Toyota is launching its zero emission capable Black Cab, again on LPG, for just £16,000 from 2018.
It is easy for London to establish a way forward which would fully support the drive to hybrid electric taxis whilst at the same time drastically reducing the air quality emissions from the taxis remaining on London’s roads.
With London’s air quality being the biggest environmental risk for London this year these simple LPG solutions provide Boris an opportunity for a real environmental legacy for Londoners and for Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan the opportunity to be seen to be leading on improving London’s air quality.