The International Road Transport Union, or IRU, has said this week that commercial vehicles should be exempt from the city-centre bans being readied by many European urban areas as emissions regulations are tightened up.
2,000 cities planning emissions-based bans
Some 2,000 cities and larger towns across Europe are planning to ban anything other than zero-emissions vehicles from their centres. Perhaps, in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal and its revelations of the choking power of NOX gases and the ongoing climate crisis, that’s only to be expected.
The IRU, though, reckons that commercial vehicles, and vans especially, should be able to swerve around such regulations. “Liveability and sustainability for all cities depend on goods and people being able to move into, around and out of urban areas,” said Umberto de Pretto, IRU Secretary General. “Urban vehicle restrictions are catching commercial vehicles in their nets when their real aim is often car use. Cities need to exempt commercial vehicles from these rules.”
“More than 90 per cent of vehicles in urban areas are private vehicles, so restrictions should clearly distinguish between them and commercial vehicles to deliver the greatest cost-benefit solution,” said de Pretto, who also noted that limiting goods transport in cities impacts local business and residents in addition to the direct impact on commercial transport services. Restricting passenger transport also penalises tourism, increases mobility poverty and limits efforts to reduce private car use to decarbonise mobility as a whole. Yet the high costs of restricting commercial vehicles from cities brings, says the IRU, only limited benefits in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, pollution, noise or congestion.
Too many confusing regulations
According to the IRU, while commercial vehicle users and manufacturers are working towards a cleaner, greener future, too often new regulations are brought in too quickly for them to react, causing a certain amount of economic and planning chaos. Bad enough for a major van maker, worse still for an independent commercial vehicle operator.
The issue becomes more challenging for operators who work between major cities and across national borders, where they have to adhere to a ‘patchwork of different regulations’ and ‘a complex web of standards’, which sometimes differ between different cities in the same country.
So, is the IRU right? Should vans be given a pass when it comes to clean air laws in the interests of commercial realities?
Well, maybe not. The IRU has also launched its ‘Green Compact’, which commits to the decarbonising of commercial vehicle transport by 2050. The same Umberto de Pretto launched that initiative, saying: “Road transport performs a huge range of services: moving people and goods, over short and long distances, with light and heavy loads, in urban and rural areas. Almost every journey for people or goods involves some element of road transport, so we need to decarbonise without compromising the services we provide.”
2050, though, is a long way away, and you get the nasty feeling that people might be making promises now, which will only have to be fulfilled when they’re long into retirement. On the other hand, the issues of climate change and inner-city air quality are not going away, and they’re certainly not going to be put on hold until 2050.
We have a right to clean air
As Anna Krajinska, an emissions engineer with environmental think-tank Transport & Environment put it: “The recent landmark ruling in the United Kingdom that air pollution caused by toxic emissions from cars, buses and trucks, was responsible for the death of 9-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, should send a very clear message: failure to urgently address the causes of the toxic air that millions of us are forced to breathe daily, will result in more unnecessary and avoidable deaths. The problem is particularly bad in traffic-choked cities, where cars and trucks are the main sources of nitrogen dioxide pollution. No one should have to accept toxic air in exchange for car manufacturers avoiding investing in cleaner cars.”
The problem is, in fairness, a difficult one. We, as citizens, need cleaner air and lower carbon emissions — we won’t survive much longer as a society nor a species without those. But the road to delivering such changes is long and expensive, and both van and truck makers, and the end-users of those products, will have to face some difficult decisions along the way. The only certainty is that the clock is ticking, and that right fast.