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Improving air quality: buses are key to success

Lianna Etkind's picture
Cars and exhaust fumes

Air pollution is killing thousands of people every year in the UK. Claire Haigh, Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, explains how buses can help clean up the air that we breathe.

It is very disappointing that the Government has delayed publication of its long-awaited draft Air Quality Plan to tackle pollution in the UK. [Note: the Air Quality Plan has since been published; find out more - ed]

This was a real opportunity for the Government to address what has become a public health emergency, causing 44,000 early deaths a year and driving up incidences of cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease, obesity and dementia.

As we await the High Court’s response to the Government’s application for a delay, I urge ministers to look closely at the evidence around air pollution to ensure that their policies are based on facts rather than political expediency.

So what does the evidence say?  It all points to the need to get tough on motorists and put clean buses at the heart of the national air quality strategy.

Cleaner air for a fraction of the cost of diesel scrappage

A new report launched last week by Greener Journeys reveals that the latest Euro VI diesel buses produce 95% fewer emissions than previous models, and less emissions overall than a Euro 6 diesel car, despite having the capacity to carry up to 15 times more passengers. On a per passenger basis, modern diesel cars also produce 10 times more NOx emissions than modern diesel buses.

The new analysis by Professor David Begg also reveals that that the diesel scrappage scheme being considered by the Government is a poor value for taxpayers’ money and that fitting bus engines with environmental filters could achieve the same result for a fraction of the cost.

According to the study, “bus retrofitting” would cost the taxpayer just £12 per kilogram of Nitrogen Oxides saved - 15 times less than a diesel scrappage scheme, which would cost £175 cost for every kilogram saved*.

Environmental justice

The imperative to tackle poor air quality isn't just a health issue, it is also a moral issue. Research by the University of Surrey shows that drivers commuting in diesel cars produce six times as much pollution as the average bus passenger, yet bus passengers suffer far more from pollution in our cities than those travelling in cars.  This is a clear violation of the core principle of environmental justice.  Those who contribute the most to air pollution in our cities are least likely to suffer.

The onus must be put on the polluters.  Unfortunately, policy so far has failed to address these fundamental equity and social justice issues, and has crucially stopped short of tackling one of the biggest root causes of air pollution: increasing use of private diesel cars.  

If the Government is serious about tackling air pollution and saving lives, it must not pander to diesel car drivers. It must introduce a scrappage scheme and include private diesel cars in the five new clean air zones. At the same time, the new Plan must recognise that buses are very much part of the solution and provide support for bringing the rest of the bus fleet up to the Euro VI standard, through retrofit where feasible. Without this support, bus operators will have no choice but to raise fares and cut services.

The Government has said it will publish its draft plan on June 30. As we await this report, it must be remembered that we all bear some responsibility for reducing air pollution; real change will only occur when everyone accepts their role, and makes a concerted effort. We need to act urgently to protect the health, well-being and sustainability of today's communities and future generations.

*These figures are based on scrappage of Euro 3 diesel cars, based on NOx emissions travelling at 25km/hr, with cars travelling 5,000km /year in urban centres, and scrappage costing £2,000 with the new Euro 6 vehicle lasting ten years

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