Long-term exposure to air pollution in London is estimated to cause the equivalent of 4,300 premature deaths per year. In 2014, the European Commission launched infraction proceedings against the UK Government for non-compliance with EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide. Recent evidence suggests that children disproportionately bear the impact of air pollution with higher rates of asthma and reduced lung function. Given the way concentrations fall within the city, children from more deprived groups and ethnic minorities are more adversely affected, turning improving air quality into a question of equality and fairness.
Transport is a significant cause of air pollutant emissions, accounting for 60 percent of all air pollutant emissions. Currently, London’s famous Black Cabs account for almost 35 percent of central London’s PM10 emissions and around 15 percent of NOx emissions. Without further intervention, this is expected to increase to around 45 percent of central London’s PM10 emissions.
With 23,000 vehicles, the black cab taxi fleet is the largest regulated taxi fleet in the world and has strict ‘Conditions of Fitness’ which vehicles have to meet, including turning circle and accessibility requirements. These requirements mean generally available cars are not suitable to be taxis and that a zero emission capable vehicle had to be developed by manufacturers from scratch, using iconic design to complement the black cab heritage.
In 2010, the Mayor set out a comprehensive strategy to improve the city’s air quality; The Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy. The strategy set out a holistic approach to tackling the major emission sources in the city, to reduce concentrations, improve quality of life, protect public health and support economic growth. Building on this strategy, in February 2013 the Mayor announced his vision for an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London from 2020. This provided a comprehensive framework to address all emissions and would require all vehicles to be either zero or ultra low emission.
The New Taxi for London project is a key part of the ULEZ and seeks to develop zero emission capable technology (i.e. pure electric, hydrogen or other range-extended hybrid). The project comprises four components, including:
- Developing new zero emission capable vehicles – five manufacturers have developed vehicles designed to meet London’s unique requirements.
- Geofencing – for the first time London is using GPS-based geofencing as a mechanism to switch hybrid vehicles to its zero emission drive cycle.
- Ultra Low Emission Zone – all newly licensed taxis to be zero emission capable from 2018 and all vehicles in central London to be zero or ultra low emission from 2020.
- Financing solution – combining Government grants with loans that monetize fuel savings to reduce the upfront capital cost of a new taxi to accelerate their uptake. A 15 year taxi age limit also tackles the “tail” forcing the retirement of older vehicles.
The New Taxi for London seeks to reduce black taxi emissions by up to 100 percent in central London and by around 75 percent in the rest of the city. Improved air pollution concentrations will also have a significant health benefit. For every 1ug/m3 of air pollutant concentrations that are reduced, there is an estimated 2.5 months gain in life expectancy. Given the way concentrations fall within the city, this will also improve social cohesion.
The Mayor also has an ambitious green growth agenda, which is supported by his vision of London as the ultra low emission capital of Europe. These measures have clear economic benefits, with the ultra low emission vehicle sector in London generating £1.3 billion in sales, supporting nearly 600 companies (across the supply chain) and around 9,000 jobs.