What do Clean Air Zones mean for fleets?

There is no escaping it. The effect of diesel emissions on air quality, stories about how they affect people’s health and the introduction of toxicity charges on vehicles seem to make up a daily diet of news stories.

It means that restrictions and charges are being brought in on vehicles entering cities that don’t meet certain emission targets. For fleet managers this presents an ever-growing challenge. For instance, what does the London’s new T-Charge mean for people responsible for managing fleets? The extra cost adds another £10 on top of the existing £11.50 congestion charge for vehicles that have emission standards that pre-dates Euro 4. And the London Mayor is looking to bring forward the roll out of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to 2019, which means only diesel vehicles meeting the latest Euro 6 standards won’t have to pay a further charge.

Does this mean that other cities are likely to follow suit? The Clean Air Zone Framework has identified five other cities including Derby, Birmingham and Nottingham that need to improve air quality significantly. It’s not just the UK that is instigating plans to reduce air pollution in cities. France has a scheme in place in places such as Paris, Lyon and Lille, which means drivers need to apply and pay for a sticker, so they are permitted to drive in those locations.

What does this mean for the make-up of a fleet and what vehicles make for the best choice for a fleet manager? On the upside, it seems larger fleets tend to be more informed about government proposals and proposed industry responses and plans. In our latest Operational Fleet Insight report, 62% of fleets are aware of the government’s recently published Clean Air Zone Framework and 66% of them support the introduction of them, but many feel more should be done to help facilitate the introduction of alternative fuels. Nearly half of fleet managers (47%) feel that governmental organisations should be lobbying for greater investment in electric vehicle infrastructure.

However, fleet managers are counting on there being changes to their fleets. Currently, 94% of fleets are made up of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, but in five years’ time, fleet managers expect that to have dropped to 74%. Correspondingly, while fleets have 30% of vehicles powered by alternative fuels, that is expected to rise to 63% in the next five years.

Yet, that growth is dependent on fleet managers expecting there to be improvements in terms of the capabilities of alternative fuelled vehicles. This in turn is leading to an element of frustration about the lack of progress with the development of alternatives to diesel-powered vehicles. Many fleet managers can feel under pressure to investigate alternatively powered vehicles, but feel they lack the information to make the right strategic decision or feel that the government, manufacturers and suppliers are just not pushing the agenda forward quickly enough.

When it comes to incorporating electric vehicles (EVs) on their fleet there are some hurdles that managers want clearing. The biggest improvement they want to see is in terms of EVs’ range with 82% of fleet managers citing this. Lack of infrastructure ranks the same as limited range for an area of concern among fleet managers who want to see more charging stations, and a wider range of vehicle choice is close behind at 80%. Electric vehicles will also need to handle larger payloads with 79% of fleet managers registering this as a concern to overcome if they are going put EVs on their fleet.

What’s also clear is that if tougher emission targets are to be introduced, then fleet managers want to see the government leading the way to make it easier for fleets to consider using an alternative fuel.

It’s not just about electric powertrains and alternative fuels though, that fleet managers have concern about. They also want to see greater investment for in-vehicle technology, with 77% of fleet managers wanting more advanced technology included in the vehicle.

Across the different business sectors, there are varying degrees of awareness of the government’s Clean Air Zone Framework with the Business Services sector having the highest awareness at 75% while it is the Construction & Facilities Management sector that has the lowest at 49%. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are not far behind in having the lowest awareness at 58%, while IT & Telecoms have a shade more awareness at 59%.

What is clear is that of those that know about Clean Air Zones, all are aware of the enormous impact a Clean Air Zone would have on them if they came into effect. Many operational vehicles are used in urban areas so understanding the latest government regulations and ensuring that all the fleet vehicles comply with emissions targets is key.

It’s not that fleets are against Clean Air Zones – indeed 65% of all the business verticals support the idea with many agreeing with the benefits that could come from the implementation of them in cities. For instance, 71% of all the business verticals agreed with the idea of lower parking fees for ultra-low emission vehicles and 73% agreed with the idea of free entry into Clean Air Zones for vehicles meeting minimum emissions standards.

What’s clear, that while many in fleets agree with the idea of Clean Air Zones and there is a growing awareness of the government proposal, there is a majority view that there should be more done by the government, manufacturers and suppliers to make the uptake of alternate fuelled vehicles an easier proposition than is the case now. Given the desire to reduce levels of pollution in our cities, this is a goal that is in everyone’s interest to achieve.

Stuart Thomas, Head of Fleet and SME at the AA

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