Clean air measures: are they dirty news for van drivers?

How will the new emission changes affect van drivers

With climate change climbing ever higher up the news agenda, and the government desperate to meet its targets on reducing carbon emissions, measures are being brought in to make cars, vans and other vehicles less polluting – often by charging drivers. So how will some of these emissions reduction measures affect van drivers?

Fuel economy

The official method of measuring fuel economy for new vehicles has been changed to make it more realistic. Instead of lab tests designed to produce the best figures possible, vehicles will be tested on roads in a more authentic way. The new test goes by the name of the World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, shortened to WLTP; it became mandatory for new cars last September, and applies to vans from this September.

So far, so good – except that from April 2021, the government plans to levy road tax on vans according to their carbon dioxide emissions (van drivers pay a flat rate at the moment). And of course, tested on the road rather than in a lab, both fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be worse – up to 40 per cent difference in the latter, according to the government's own figures.

It's been widely acknowledged that many small business owners are simply not in a position to swap their van for something smaller and more fuel efficient, since the whole point of a van is that it can carry heavy loads. As such, it’s a case of waiting to see what rules the government makes for van drivers in the next year or two.

Clean air zones

After the government was ordered by the Supreme Court to reduce its nitrogen dioxide emissions, five cities – Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton – were told in 2015 to make plans to introduce clean air zones, areas of the city where measures are taken to improve air quality. Despite concerns that drivers of less eco-friendly vehicles would face enormous daily charges for driving in these zones, Birmingham is the only place where ordinary van drivers will be hit.

Drivers whose vans aren't compliant with the Euro 6 vehicle emission standards if they're diesels, or Euro 4 if they're petrols, will have to pay £8 a day to drive within the area bounded by the Middleway Ring Road. Most new diesel vans from September 2015 onwards, and most petrol vans registered from 2006 onwards, do meet these requirements so won't be charged.

In the Leeds zone, which comes into effect on January 6, 2020, light vans won't face a charge, although HGVs and buses which aren't Euro 6 compliant can look forward to a £50 daily fee. Southampton's zone won't have a charge, and Derby and Nottingham are no longer introducing the zones.

London

London is introducing an ultra-low-emissions zone on April 8 this year, replacing the toxicity charge introduced in 2017. This will be pretty punitive if your van isn't Euro 6 or Euro 4 compliant, as it's the same as the congestion charge zone, and the daily charge of £12.50 will be on top of the £11.50 congestion charge, and will be levied 24 hours a day. From October 2021 the zone will be expanded to include the area bounded by the North and South Circular roads.

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