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Clean Air Zones - the proof is in the planning

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Clean Air Zones - the proof is in the planning

With London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) having gone live in April, Gary Harrison, head of engineering at BT Fleet Solutions explores options that can help fleet operators ease disruption caused by Clean Air Zones (CAZs).

From now on, non-compliant vehicles entering London’s ULEZ will incur a charge. The new regulations, put in force to discourage the use of the capital’s most polluting vehicles, will require petrol and diesel vehicles to meet the Euro 4 and Euro 6 standards respectively. HGVs that don’t meet the Euro 6 standard will incur even larger costs, with operators facing a fee of £100 per non-compliant vehicle.

Elsewhere in the country, there remains uncertainty around the finer details of CAZs in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds and the more recently proposed, Greater Manchester. Understandably, this is causing quite the headache for fleet managers.


Blurred lines

Research presented in the 2018/19 Operational Fleet Report from BT Fleet Solutions and the AA showed that fleet managers are largely in favour of tackling air pollution. The report, which explored the views of over 500 key fleet decision-makers and 16 industry experts, showed that 80 per cent believe improving air quality was of personal importance, while over a quarter claimed it was important to their organisation.

The problem however, lies in the lack of clarity over what the zones will look like and the huge variation in what is considered a compliant vehicle. Each zone is also highly likely to have different charges, making it tough for operators to predict or plan for the charges they incur, should their vehicles not comply. And of course, there is the small problem of finding the budget to replace non-compliant vehicles. According to the report, over a third of fleets haven’t yet put a strategy in place in preparation for CAZs.


The road ahead

Forward planning will be essential when trying to take the sting out of the financial implications CAZs could bring. Telematics combined with a route optimisation and scheduling solution, or the general integration of data into existing systems, could hold the answer.

Telematics data will allow fleet managers to holistically view all routes completed by their vehicles. For logistics operators or service vehicles operating within the zone, combining vehicle utilisation data with an optimisation solution could then be used to identify whether the delivery schedule could be completed with fewer vehicles, and as a result reducing charges. It may even be that the data points towards the procurement of a final mile delivery solution.

For company car drivers entering the city for work, data surrounding the number of journeys within CAZs, prior to their introduction, will allow businesses to explore the cost of other forms of mobility such as car sharing and public transport.


Balancing the costs

Telematics can also monitor fuel usage and CO2 emissions, offering accurate cost indicators for vehicles operating within restricted zones. This information, combined with fuel card data and charges within each city, could be used to validate the costs of replacing non-compliant fleet vehicles with those that pass the emissions threshold.

When considering the upgrade of existing vehicles though, it’s important that businesses choose what is right for them, as every zone, vehicle and journey are unique. By utilising telematics data from existing journeys into the proposed zone, operators can estimate the most cost-effective option.

Being charged to enter the Clean Air Zone may be a bitter pill to swallow for many. According to the Operational Fleet Report, one in five fleet managers stated they would pay fines and charges upon entering the CAZ rather than replace their old vehicles with newer, cleaner models. This does however bring into question the effectiveness of CAZs and whether their intended purpose will fall by the wayside.


Fuelling alternatives

It’s almost impossible to have a conversation about air quality without mentioning EVs (electric vehicles). With the introduction of CAZs, fleet owners – particularly those operating in urban areas – are inevitably putting further consideration into the procurement of electric and alternative fuels.  For some, EVs are an extremely practical alternative but there are several factors to consider before making the switch.

For those operating within cities or completing short trips, there is an ever-expanding range of affordable electric alternatives. For those completing longer journeys or carrying more payload, many EVs are still unsuitable due to the range one can travel on a full charge. This is particularly true of vans and LGVs, where the load capacity and associated distances can quickly deplete the battery. While there is plenty of ongoing work to extend vehicle range and reduce battery size, many still see EVs as an unfeasible option for their particular line of work.

Weighing up the pros and cons of switching can be tough, and the suitability of EVs depends entirely on the demands of your business. As experts in Fleet Management, BT Fleet Solutions are currently exploring strategic partnerships with EV companies to offer the best advice to customers that are considering electrification of their fleet.


Avoiding the unnecessary

The telematics solution can help eradicate unnecessary (and sometimes accidental) charges. The software’s ability to add geofences around Clean Air Zones could help to keep drivers from needlessly drifting into these zones. By creating virtual boundaries, a mile or so outside of each zone, fleet managers can be notified and if possible, divert drivers around the charging zone. If on the other hand, entering the zone is unavoidable, the system will be able to inform you which vehicles have entered the zone, so that the business isn’t caught out by unexpected charges or worse, fines for missed payments.


A complete understanding

As we approach the implementation of CAZs, fleet owners should take full advantage of the data available to them through existing providers. Operators should investigate current fuel costs, interpret work schedules and vehicle utilisation and make cost analysis a priority. Overlay this with the data available and explore mobility solutions, alternative fuels and technologies with scrutiny. 

25 July 2019