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Mobility credits could soften blow of Birmingham’s charging Clean Air Zone

Birmingham City Council is proposing a £36m package of mitigation measures and a raft of short-term exemptions from its Clean Air Zone, which will cover almost all vehicles, including cars. Andrew Forster reports

28 September 2018
Birmingham: parking charges will be introduced on almost 6,000 on-street spaces
Birmingham: parking charges will be introduced on almost 6,000 on-street spaces


Low income car owners in Birmingham could receive up to £2,000 of credit on a public transport smartcard to soften the blow of the city’s charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ), under proposals submitted to Government by the city council this month. The mitigation measures also include electric vehicle charging credits for plug-in van owners, and a range of exemptions from the CAZ charges for at least one year. 

Birmingham was one of five cities ordered to introduce a CAZ because the Government’s air quality modelling suggests that, without one, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide will exceed EU limit values beyond 2020.

Under the council’s plan, a charging CAZ would commence in January 2020 covering all roads within the inner ring road (the A4540, which used to be called the middle ring road until bits of the 1950s inner ring road were downgraded from the late 1980s onwards) (LTT 6 Jul). 

Birmingham’s CAZ will be a Class D scheme, to use Government parlance, covering cars, buses, coaches, lorries, vans and taxis. The Government-set minimum standards for Class D zones include: Euro 4 for petrol cars, taxis, and vans; Euro 6 for diesel cars, taxis, and vans; and Euro VI for buses, lorries, and coaches. The charge for non-compliance will be £12.50 a day for cars, light goods vehicles and taxis; and £100 for HGVs and buses. Penalty charge notices for non-payment will be £120, halved if paid promptly.

The controversy surrounding the plans is illustrated by the fact that this summer’s consultation generated 10,392 responses from individuals and 386 from organisations – the highest ever response to a consultation run by the council. 

The council’s traffic modelling suggests that, in the absence of a CAZ, about 206,900 vehicles will enter the area bounded by the A4540 in 2020, of which 57,400 would be non-compliant with the CAZ standards. With a CAZ in place, traffic is forecast to fall to 190,900, with the number of non-complaint vehicles falling by more than 50,000 to 6,500 (of which 2,959 are expected to be cars, 3,496 light goods vehicles, and 87 HGVs. There are not expected to be any non-compliant taxis, private hire vehicles, or buses).

Even with the charge in place, however, the council says modelling suggests there will still be 12 locations with NO2 exceedances in 2020 and full compliance will not be achieved post-2022. Consequently, the council has developed a package of complementary measures, which are expected to ensure compliance is achieved at all but one location by 2021 (Suffolk Street Queensway is forecast to achieve compliance by 2022). 

The complementary measures include parking charges for all the approximately 6,000 on-street spaces that are currently free within the ring road. About 22,000 vehicles  use this free on-street parking in the zone “on a regular basis”, says Birmingham (LTT asked what this meant but had not received a reply by close of press). Of these, about 14,100 are expected to pay the parking charges; 6,000 to avoid the zone entirely, 1,670 to cancel their trip, and 518 to switch modes. The council concedes, however, that only 304 of the vehicles that currently benefit from free on-street parking are non-compliant with the CAZ standards, so it is not clear if this is vital to the success of the zone or not. By reducing traffic volumes the charges will obviously  reduce the number of compliant vehicles in the zone, which could also reduce pollution levels. 

 Changes to traffic management are also proposed:  

• all traffic except buses will be banned from Moor Street Queensway, Suffolk Street Queensway (northbound), and southbound from Paradise Circus onto the A38

• Lister Street and Great Lister Street will be closed at the junction with Dartmouth Middleway 

The council admits that the CAZ and complementary measures are not simply about improving air quality. The scheme’s ‘preferred option business case’ explains: “A significant proportion of the city’s growth is envisaged to be delivered around the city centre. This growth is currently constrained by the current capacity of the city’s transport infrastructure in the short- to medium-term. Within this context, the council expects that the emerging CAZ will act as an enabler of development and growth in the city centre. [The CAZ] can facilitate capacity on the city centre’s road network, which can unlock development and growth locally.”

The council concedes that the measures will hit many people financially. “Taxi businesses would be faced with high upfront costs and few choices of response to the CAZ,” it says. “Other types of business less able to afford the impacts appear to be private hire taxi companies, van companies with fleets that are owned by individuals, and small and medium enterprise HGV operators.”

To soften the blow, a range of vehicles will be exempted from the CAZ charges for at least one year: HGVs, vans and coaches registered within the CAZ; HGVs and vans registered within Birmingham with existing finance agreements; residents of the CAZ; “income deprived” people working within the CAZ; “key workers” working within the CAZ; hospital and GP visits; faith groups; and community and school transport.?

“The exemptions are not anticipated to impact compliance dates as the impacted participants only make up a small proportion of daily traffic, under four per cent,” says the council. “Additionally, as exemptions are only valid through 2020, these will not impact compliance being achieved in 2021.” The council’s documents also state, however: “All exemptions are initially planned for one year. However, there may be political appetite to extend some of the measures where low impacts are not anticipated to delay the forecast compliance date.” 

The council is also requesting £36.2m from the Government’s Clean Air Fund for mitigation measures to those impacted by the scheme. Proposals are:

• a £1,000 mobility credit on the conurbation’s SWIFT public transport ‘smart’ ticket for low income individuals (60 per cent below the national median) who own a non-compliant vehicle and live or work within the CAZ

• a £2,000 mobility credit on SWIFT or £2,000 towards the purchase of a compliant car for low income individuals (presumably just Birmingham residents but LTT was unable to establish this point) and choose to scrap their non-compliant vehicle?

• a £5,000 payment to Hackney carriage (taxi) drivers who choose to retrofit their vehicle to run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or towards the finance costs of a new ultra-low emission vehicle

• a bulk purchase of 50 ULEV Hackney carriages, which would be leased to the “most vulnerable” drivers 

• £750 of electric vehicle charging credits for owners of plug-in vans

• a competitive grant scheme offering £15,000 for the retrofit of non-compliant HGVs and coaches or the lease of compliant models

• a residents parking scheme 

Poor value for money

The economic appraisal of the CAZ shows that it is poor value for money, with the environmental benefits outweighed by dis-benefits accruing to transport users. 

The business case is based on the expectation that traffic volumes will grow faster in central Birmingham than the rest of the city or wider West Midlands: a 7.9 per cent rise in city centre car/taxi traffic is forecast during the morning peak between 2016 and 2020, a 10.8 per cent rise in light goods vehicles, and a 3.5 per cent rise in HGVs.

CAZ revenues are expected to be about £43.6m in 2020, dropping to £5.2m in 2029 as a greater number of vehicles comply with the emission standards. All surpluses will be used for local transport improvements.

A ten-year economic appraisal of the CAZ plus the additional measures shows health and environmental benefits of £38m, reduced carbon dioxide emissions of £6m, reduced journey time and vehicle operating costs of £11m, and £28m of additional private sector parking revenues. 

These are outweighed by £48m of additional parking charges paid by drivers, £54m spent by motorists/fleet operators on vehicle upgrades, and £47m worth of trips foregone by road users because of charges. The resulting present value of benefits is -£66m. 

The present value of costs to Birmingham City Council is -£56m (£76m of costs, partly offset by £20m of additional parking revenues). Adding benefits and costs together results in a net present value of -£122m.

The health benefits decline over time as compliance improves, from about £7m for reductions in NOx and around £2m for reductions in PM10 in the first year, to just £0.4m for NOx and £0.1m for PM10 in 2029.  The council says the health benefits do not account for the impact of NO2 on hospital admissions and therefore morbidity impacts may be underestimated. 

The council says the number of deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide were 906 in the West Midlands metropolitan area in 2011, including 371 in Birmingham. But in 2018 it estimates these numbers had fallen to 384, of which 175 were in Birmingham. For particulates (PM2.5), the estimate for 2011 is 1,359 (West Midlands) and 486 Birmingham, figures that had only fallen marginally by 2018, to 1,231 and 441 respectively (Birmingham is currently compliant with legal limits for PM). 

A number of consultants have helped prepare the plans: Turner & Townsend (programme management and governance); Steer (traffic and air quality modelling); WSP (additional measures); Jacobs (economic assessments, freight, procurement); and Pell Frischmann (consultation). 

Head of Highways
Buckinghamshire Council
£68,486 - £71,999
Head of Highways
Buckinghamshire Council
£68,486 - £71,999
Head of Highways
Buckinghamshire Council
£68,486 - £71,999
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