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Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have published updated proposals for a Zero Emission Zone in the city centre.
The updated proposals follow 15 months of listening to businesses, residents, transport operators and health experts in Oxfordshire.
The proposals under consideration set a journey to zero transport emissions in the city by 2035. From 2020 onwards, a ZEZ could apply to some vehicles and journey types, with restrictions increased gradually to all vehicles in the following years to create a largely transport emissions-free city centre by 2035.
The aim of the ZEZ is to tackle Oxford’s toxic air pollution and protect the health of everyone who lives in, works in and visits the city. It is also expected that the ZEZ will improve air pollution levels across Oxfordshire because the buses and taxis that serve Oxford also serve towns and villages across the county.
From 2020, under the proposals, all non-zero emission vehicles could be banned during certain hours from parking and loading on public highway in an inner zone, while in a larger zone the requirement will be Euro 6 for buses. Citywide taxi emissions standards will apply from 2020, with increasingly improving standards to 2025.
The vision towards zero emissions sees an acceleration from 2022 to 2035, when the councils are considering further possible measures for non-zero and high emission vehicles to encourage a faster conversion towards low emission and zero emission vehicles. These ideas, like the development of the first stage of ZEZ will be thoroughly researched, tested and consulted on with businesses and residents.
The first step on the journey to zero will be taken when City councillors decide on the Hackney carriage licensing changes this month (January 2019), which would see, as part of a phased approach, the introduction of zero-emission capable hackney carriage taxis in the city centre by 2022.
The two councils had announced a joint vision for a ZEZ in 2017 and have been working together to create a scheme that is both effective and deliverable.
Oxford’s ZEZ would be one of the first in the world to be introduced. Several other cities in Britain and other countries are looking at ways to improve air quality by restricting vehicle access in similar ways.
The journey to zero emissions
As originally proposed, the scheme will be phased. Following public engagement, the two councils are looking at ways to cover more vehicle types and over a larger area. This plan, if approved, will maximise benefits to air quality in a shorter time.
The proposed ZEZ, if approved, will cover two areas of the city centre (see above) and will see emission requirements on vehicles entering Oxford city centre with restrictions increased gradually between 2020 and 2035:
The purpose of setting an end goal in 2035 is to provide residents and businesses in Oxford with certainty about the future direction of travel on the city’s journey to zero, enabling them to make decisions about their vehicle purchases now.
The ZEZ restrictions will not apply to emergency vehicles and exemptions are expected to be approved for Blue Badge Holders.
Big conversation on road to zero emissions continues
This phased approach follows extensive consultation with city centre businesses, Covered Market traders, bus companies, taxi drivers and operators, University of Oxford colleges, environment groups, groups representing people with disabilities, and other stakeholders.
More than 750 residents and businesses took part in a six-week public consultation on the proposals in late 2017, with about 70% of respondents backing a phased approach to the ZEZ.
The two councils have also been talking to other local authorities who are considering or implementing clean air zones to learn from their experiences.
Over the coming months, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council will continue to consult on, and carry out further studies to develop the plans, to produce a fully-costed, effective and deliverable during 2019. Residents and businesses will then be formally consulted on the new proposals once they have been finalised.
A final decision on the introduction of the ZEZ is subject to approval by councillors at both City and County councils.
Tackling air pollution
Nitrogen dioxide is the local air pollutant of most concern in Oxford, and the only pollutant for which European limits continue to be breached in the city. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants warn there is no safe level of nitrogen dioxide.
A 2016 report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Healthfound that outside air pollution – of which about 75% comes from road traffic in Oxford – cuts short 40,000 lives a year in the UK.
In 2017, significant decreases of nitrogen dioxide levels were observed in the city centre, although several monitored locations in the city still registered levels above the legal limit.
Chris Coleman, Managing Director of Stagecoach in Oxfordshire, said: “Buses have a key role to play in boosting the region’s air quality, as well as addressing damaging congestion, growing our economy and bringing communities together. The latest Euro 6 buses are cleaner than new Euro 6 diesel cars and can carry up to 20 times more people.
“Across the UK, Stagecoach has invested more than £1billion in greener buses over the past decade, many of which have been introduced in Oxfordshire. We look forward to working in partnership with the council to deliver an even better local environment and encourage more people to switch from the car to greener and smarter bus travel.”
Phil Southall, Managing Director of Oxford Bus Company, said: “I very much welcome the phased approach that the local authorities have taken to introducing the Zero Emission Zone and this makes its delivery challenging but much more realistic.
“Whilst a number of our buses already meet the Euro 6 standard and others will be upgraded in the coming months, we still need to purchase further vehicles to deliver an Ultra-Low Emission Zone in late 2020 but we are confident that we can achieve this within the time frame.
“Partnership working will be important in our journey to zero beyond that and we look forward to working with both authorities to continually improve the air that we breathe to add to the good work already done to date.”
Sajad Khan, Secretary of the City of Oxford Licensed Taxicab Association (COLTA), said: “We share the ambition of Oxford City Council to reduce air pollution across Oxfordshire. For the health of our city and our drivers, we want to modernise our full fleet to electric when possible. The transformation of Oxford's Hackney carriage fleet needs careful management so that our business can thrive. We welcome the funding which the City Council has secured to install new electric charging points and support the trade to transition to electric.
“Over the last months, COLTA and the City Council have engaged in direct, frequent, and productive discussions to make the ZEZ a practical and workable reality which Black Cab drivers of Oxford can proudly help to achieve. It's been a positive relationship with our city councillors and officers within the City Council who have approached these conversations and listened to drivers, and worked with us to make the transition to zero-emission practical and possible for our drivers.
“This phased approach is much more reasonable than the initial plan as it gives drivers certainty and direction of travel and enables our drivers to plan their future vehicle purchases now. We will continue our engagement with the City Council as the ZEZ develops, share our experiences, and work together to achieve a practical Zone for all Hackney Carriage drivers and Oxford.”
This article first appeared on www.focustransport.org
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