Free parking incentives for low emission vehicles

Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for environment and sustainability, uses recent experiences from her council’s pursuit to lower emissions to explore the ways that local authorities can reduce pollution and encourage people to take up low emission vehicles.

Ways and means to improve air quality is increasingly coming top of the agenda with the government requiring a number of UK cities to put in place clean air zones. There is no single, silver bullet solution that will help cities across the UK clean up air pollution.

We need a range of measures to achieve this and the evidence for doing so is compelling.

Poor air quality contributed to more deaths in the UK than passive smoking, road casualties and drug misuse combined in 2012. In Leeds this equates to 350 deaths.

As a local authority we’ve been working to improve air quality for some time but recent court cases, committee evidence and vehicle emission scandals are sharply bringing into focus the role councils must play alongside the need for national and international action to tackle emissions at source. With a clear mandate to improve public health we’re also charged with protecting the environment and need to work with partners to manage roads and transport.

Sitting alongside this, we have our massive purchasing power as a large employer.

We’re encouraging people to shift to sustainable transport options and low emission vehicles. We’re providing the conditions for and delivering the infrastructure that allows this to happen. We’re also using our own fleet and purchasing power to demonstrate to businesses and residents just what’s possible when you make the switch to cleaner vehicles.

The Leeds situation
Sales of ultra low emission vehicles doubled in 2015 but there are still relatively few on Leeds’ roads compared to their petrol or diesel equivalents. To help encourage anyone thinking about buying a low emission car or van, we’ve recently introduced free parking permits for ultra low emission vehicles for Leeds residents.

With low running costs and savings from tax exemptions, this offer is another small benefit that could help consumers make the choice to buy a low emission vehicle. Whilst not a huge scheme, this sends a signal about what we can do and what kind of cars we want to see on our roads.

Research by Go Ultra Low suggested that one in five new car buyers would be better off driving an electric car. Comparing buying considerations with driving habits demonstrated that half a million people could be better off driving an electric vehicle. So, there is massive potential for the number of plug-in vehicles to increase dramatically on the region’s roads.

We do still find
ourselves in a chicken and egg situation however. Even with developments in vehicles and the available technology we need the right infrastructure in place before people and businesses will buy low emission vehicles. However, we might not have or get the levels of investment in infrastructure until demand is truly there. We’re hoping to tip that balance in Leeds.

The tipping point
We’re about to take delivery of 41 electric vehicles to add to, and in some cases replace, our fleet of 26 electric and hybrid cars and vans. The 41 vehicles will travel an estimated 450,000 miles a year offering fuel savings of £24,600 and reduce the council’s emissions.

A number of these electric vans and cars will be operating primarily within the city centre where the reduction in exhaust emissions will be most beneficial.

Many other environmentally savvy‑businesses have already made the switch to greener vehicles and we are continuing discussions with them, including bus companies, to try and help them maximise their green credentials. One clear message we get back for businesses is about the price of the vehicles, which we hope will fall as the market increases. With increasing numbers of low emission council vehicles on the road enabling us to deliver front-line services, we also hope that others will follow our example.

As well as the electric and hybrid vehicles, we’ve been running five bin lorries on liquefied natural gas. They’re fuelled at our own depot-based fuelling station. We want to take this another step further. We’ve been taking a closer look at compressed natural gas as a fuel as it cuts particulate matter by almost 100 per cent and nitrogen oxides by around 90 per cent. It also reduces carbon dioxide emissions by around a quarter.

We know businesses are willing to invest in compressed natural gas filling stations, but they are cautious due to the high cost of connecting the gas mains unless there is an established market. And without a fuelling station, people can’t or won’t buy vehicles than run on compressed natural gas.

Along with Northern Gas Networks, we want to work in partnership with the private sector to build and run a compressed natural gas filling station. As leaders in civic enterprise, we want to be there when there are opportunities that we can use to improve air quality whilst getting more than our costs back.

We’ve already committed to converting our entire 70-strong fleet of bin lorries to run on compressed natural gas at an investment of £1.58 million over the next five years. Doing so demonstrates to investors that there is a clear, ready-made client and will help prove the business case. If plans for the Aire Valley based station come to fruition – and there are still many hurdles to overcome – it could be the largest commercial compressed natural gas fuelling station in the country, serving businesses across the region, and making a significant dent in harmful emissions.

What else
We need a comprehensive package of measures that will encourage the switch to low emission vehicles. As well as using planning powers to ensure new developments have appropriate electric vehicle charging points, along with our partners, we’re continuing to encourage businesses and individuals to car share, walk or use public transport.

With the Tour de France Grand Départ andnow two very successful Tour de Yorkshire events behind us, we’re continuing to promote cycling and the new cycle superhighway between Leeds and Bradford will be completed soon.

A park and ride site at Elland Road has proved so successful that it’s being expanded. The site has electric charging points so people can charge their cars for free. Plans are also in progress to create a similar park and ride site in the Aire Valley. The new Kirkstall Forge railway station has now opened, joining Apperley Bridge, which is just across the border in Bradford and with an extensive bus network and thriving taxi industry, we’re working to ensure operators can access funding to allow them to invest in cleaner, greener vehicles.

We are also working to see car ownership in a different light – promoting inclusive schemes of car sharing, high occupancy lanes and greener vehicles. We’re also working with taxi drivers to minimise the impact on air quality of the vehicles that spend most time on our streets. This proactive, all-inclusive approach demonstrates that local authorities can lead, influence, encourage and act as a major catalyst for change to help increase the number of low emission vehicles on our roads.

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