London: Limited ban on non-electric vehicles contemplated

London Article - August 21 2018.jpg

The City of London, the Financial Times revealed, is considering imposing a limited ban on non-electric vehicles. The ban, as Ruth Calderwood, air quality manager for the City of London explains, would focus on a street in a very specific area of Central London: the City. The City is home to London's most prominent business firms - these include the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the Bank of England, as well as the majority of prestigious law firms, among others. Due to the narrow streets and high congestion, the City is considered one of the most polluted areas in the British capital. 

If the considered action becomes an actual measure, it will be very carefully rolled out. As Ms. Calderwood said, "it would be a pilot trial on a small street", in order to examine the number of vehicles that can comply with it and still drive freely in the City. As one of the undisputed, global financial centres (along with New York City), the City needs guaranteed access to effective transportation. Given that it is home to a high concentration of late night workers, extreme measures, such as an outright ban on non-EV vehicles, pose a risk to the workers' late night trips - despite the abundance of night buses in the capital, the local underground system, the Tube, only runs overnight on Fridays and Saturdays.   

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been a vocal supporter of zero emission vehicles. In 2017, the Conservative government led by Theresa May announced a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040. The capital's mayor became one of a number of city leaders who called for the ban to be moved forward by 10 years, to 2030. Sadiq Khan also introduced the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), an initiative that will impose a levy on drivers of cars that do not comply with a tighter exhaust emission standards (EU4 for petrol / EU6 for diesel vehicles) who choose to drive in the centre of London. The ULEZ will be geographically expanded in 2021, to cover a larger area of central London.

The considered ban can dramatically improve the pollution levels in the British capital's centre. With that said, the potential implementation of the ban brings to the surface questions which call for an answer more imperatively. Most importantly, the proposed ban would require extensive rolling-out of EV infrastructure. The newest version of the beloved Black Cab is capable of driving emissions-free (on battery power) for up to 30 miles, but what happens when London cabbies want to recharge without leaving the centre? A report by London's Environment Committee found that the uptake of EV is outpacing the installation of new charging points. Furthermore, despite the large year-on-year growth of the EV market, London is only home to 12,000 EVs. To put this in context, there are currently more than 2.5m cars licensed in London, out of which  110,000 are black cabs and other private hire vehicles. Would an essentially EV-only street be accessible enough for effective transportation to happen?