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Truckers to count cost as London becomes huge green zone

Hauliers suggest as many as 10,000 vehicles working in and around London may not be compliant and have voiced fears that a massive pre-publicity campaign has not been successful. Photo courtesy Len Rogers Collection.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Feb 3, 2008
Drivers of high-polluting lorries face a 200-pound (266-euro, 295-dollar) daily charge to enter London from Monday, as Britain's first low emission zone comes into effect to cut air pollution.

The zone -- billed as the world's largest -- is the latest initiative to improve the quality of life for the 7.5 million people living in the 609-square-mile (1,577-square-kilometre) Greater London area.

Older, diesel-engined trucks, motorhomes and horseboxes weighing more than 12 tonnes and which fail to meet EU emissions standards will be liable to pay when driving into an area broadly within London's orbital motorway the M25.

Buses, coaches, smaller lorries, vans and minibuses that fall short of European guidelines will also have to pay as the scheme is rolled out over the next two years.

A road pricing scheme charging drivers to enter central London was introduced five years ago, which supporters claim has cut congestion and increased take-up of public transport and cycling.

Backers of the latest scheme claim it will deliver a 16 percent reduction in the most harmful emissions in the most polluted areas by 2012 and cut healthcare bills, particularly for breathing problems, by 250 million pounds.

It is hoped that the high charge and threat of fines of up to 1,000 pounds for non-payers will spur hauliers into updating or changing their ageing fleets.

"In a modern world city, people should have the opportunity to live and work without fear of being poisoned by the air they breathe," London Mayor Ken Livingstone said after approval for the scheme was given in May last year.

Transport for London (TfL), which is responsible for the capital's transport network, believes two-thirds of lorries and half of all buses in the capital will not have to pay the charge as they already fit EU emissions criteria.

But hauliers suggest as many as 10,000 vehicles working in and around London may not be compliant and have voiced fears that a massive pre-publicity campaign has not been successful.

And although backing attempts to clean up vehicles, industry body the Freight Transport Association said the scheme would achieve "very little" that would not have been achieved anyway because of enhanced EU engine standards.

"This means that Londoners and lorry operators are having to pay an enormous price -- around a quarter of a billion pounds -- for a trivial improvement in air quality," said the FTA's head of policy for London, Gordon Telling.

"The biggest pollution from traffic in London comes from cars and the scheme does not apply to them."

Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, dismissed the FTA's concerns, saying the scheme could not come soon enough.

"I don't care even if it is a trivial amount. I'm a Londoner. I have to breathe this air. I want it cleaner by any amount," she told AFP.

"This will be seen as something as important as the Clean Air Act 1956 when we decided to stop burning coal.

"It's embarrassing that for a city that does care about green issues we are still far above all the EU regulations."

Friends of the Earth's London campaigner Jenny Bates told AFP that Livingstone's plan was a "bold step" but called on him to go further to include cars to improve overall air quality, not just on routes used by heavy goods vehicles.

Getting people out of cars and onto public transport was vital as particulate levels -- tiny pieces of soot from diesel engines that have been linked to health problems -- have been increasing in recent years, they added.

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Shanghai (AFP) Jan 30, 2008
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