European environmental programmes encourage or impose measures that reduce air pollution. Air quality standards have been established which compel national governments and urban areas to implement measures to reduce pollutants emitted by traffic. An increasing number of European cities are introducing regulations that encourage clean vehicles. This involves the introduction of new criteria, which are more focused on protecting the environment than improving safety or mitigating congestion. A number of European cities have thus created Low Emission Zones (LEZ) such as London, from which the vehicles that pollute the most are banned. They frequently consist of goods vehicles as a result of the high levels of pollution emitted by today’s vehicles fleets.
It is important to establish from the outset the level of air pollution that is directly attributable to the road transport sector in order to understand If LEZs are necessary and/or effective in helping reach European air pollution goals. Road transport (freight and passenger) is generally recognised as one of the main sources of pollutant emissions. Freight transport in particular is recognised as a major contributor to emissions of ozone, fine particulates and nitrogen oxides (NOx), which cause health problems. In studies as far back as 2011 for example road transport has been found to be responsible for up to 50% of all NOx which means that the creation of LEZs in densely populated urban areas have directly targeted the urban delivery fleets. It is also important to highlight that pollution from road transport has risen also as a result of the continual increase in the proportion of diesel vehicles in the fleet. Diesel engines generate between 4 and 10 times more NOx emissions than gasoline vehicles of equivalent power and weight. Even recent diesel vehicles emit NOx (mostly NO2), also because of the use of filters to combat other types of pollution. Urban freight is frequently targeted by European cities as a major contributor to urban pollution levels with studies frequently citing figures between 35% and 50% of pollutants coming from the urban delivery vehicle fleet. It is clear from studies that the two main problems relating to the sector are 1) The amount of small businesses dedicated to Urban Delivery and 2) The age of the Fleet.
The number of small businesses involved in the sector matters because these businesses tend to work on smaller margins and therefore generate less working profit. As a result the ability of these smaller companies to adapt to air pollution measures such as LEZs are made more difficult given their reduced capacity to update their fleets. Many therefore end up operating illegally and some go out of business as they are unable to compete. As stated, smaller businesses have less capacity to regularly update their fleets and as result of the large number of small businesses dedicated to urban delivery, the urban fleet is relatively old and therefore heavily targeted by the LEZs. Larger companies with more modern fleets are therefore able to compete more easily in the market which has led to criticism from small business federations that not enough government help has been made available for smaller companies to update their fleets.
There is no doubt that the introduction of LEZs around Europe is provoking major changes to the urban freight sector. Fleet modernisation is leading to lower emissions, less smaller businesses means that there are less older vehicles on the roads and cities such as Milan and London are reporting substantial decreases in the number of miles being travelled within cities as routes are optimised and cargo often shared. New supply chain methods are also having a big impact on how we supply goods in our cities. All of this does not come without its losers though. Many haulage associations worry that measures such as LEZs can cause severe economic damage or in many cases companies often relocate their business activity to cities that do not operate LEZs. Those in favour of LEZs however highlight the link to an increase in investment in the sector due to the changes being introduced which are leading to a more modern, robust sector capable of adapting to the realities of urban living in 2020.
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