No toying around with air quality for city dwellers

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Cities and regions across Europe are struggling to meet air quality limits. [Shutterstock]

Vehicle access restrictions have come under fire from the FIA motor car users group, which argues they are a whimsical instrument that cities spontaneously decided to employ. In fact, it was the car industry that was playing with real-world driving emissions, writes Karen Vancluysen.

Karen Vancluysen is secretary general of POLIS, the association of cities and regions working for sustainable urban transport.

Cities and regions in virtually all EU member states are struggling to meet legal requirements for ambient air quality and safeguarding citizens’ health.

Access regulations have become one of the many measures that municipalities are forced to employ to reduce air (and noise) pollution, next to the prioritisation of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users.

Some cities, like Madrid, even opt to follow WHO guidelines for PM and NO limits, as these are more stringent than what the EU recommends.

All cities that have implemented urban vehicle access regulations (UVARs) understand the sensitivity of such measures in view of public and business acceptance.

Implementing an UVAR scheme is an exercise in sustainability and innovation which takes courage and many years to implement, with multiple rounds of stakeholder engagement and consultations between citizens, businesses and public authorities.

All UVARs implemented so far have withstood legal scrutiny and comply with regional, national and European legal frameworks. If not, they would not exist.

European cities take Commission to court over air quality in landmark case

In the same week that the European Commission announced it would take six countries to court for breaking air pollution limits, three major cities said they would start legal action against the EU executive. They accuse the Commission of  giving in to automotive lobbies. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

Next to the aforementioned air quality problems, urban transport accounts for 23% of CO2 emissions. Many urban areas suffer from severe congestion and urban road collisions represent 40% of all road fatalities (approx. 11,000 per year).

A superficial understanding of urban mobility and the challenges it is facing today, can give way to decisions favouring the mobility of few instead of the mobility, health and wellbeing of many.

The movement towards regulating vehicle access to city centres must continue and measures such as low emission zones, gradually banning toxic diesels and charging areas with high traffic should be encouraged by the European Commission.

At European level, one public website is offering citizens and road operators alike, a platform to find information on over 500 schemes from European cities.

Polis has established a structured cities-industry dialogue with ACEA and EUCAR to better understand the cities’ as well as industry’s needs and to enhance mutual understanding and encourage cooperation. At the same time, European cities would welcome European research, innovation, good practice exchange as well as capacity building activities to support the success of local measures.

Cities welcomed the UVAR study published by the European Commission and encourage the development of the six non-binding guidance documents as promised by the study. They should further address:

  • Transparent and science-based planning (e.g. accurate fleet data, state of the art modelling, reliable measurement and testing methods based on real-driving emissions).
  • Cost-effective implementation (open standards, interoperable technologies).
  • Informed drivers (digital data, structured, harmonised and accessible information).
  • Fair and efficient enforcement (such as remote sensing, pan-European access to vehicle databases).

Coordinating schemes such as Low Emission Zones and exchanging information, remains high on the agenda of cities, with seminars at the CIVITAS Forum this September in Umea as well as at the Polis Annual conference in Manchester.

Off-limit new diesel cars evade European city bans

The vast majority of new diesel-powered vehicles that don’t meet EU emission limits still manage to escape low emission zones or diesel bans in European cities, according to new research published today (14 March).

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