What the Clean Air Zone framework means for businesses

By  Stuart Thomas, pictured, head of fleet and SME at the AA

There’s no doubting there are major changes afoot as far as transport goes. The ‘demonisation’ of diesel and the clamour to shift to cleaner fuels that power vehicles have created a steady feed of news stories set against a backdrop of a desire for better air quality on health grounds.

For those that manage fleets and have a responsibility for ensuring they are buying and running the vehicles that not only fulfil the needs of the business, but also meets current and future rules and regulations.

That’s no easy challenge. For instance, what does London’s new T-Charge mean for people responsible for managing fleets? The £10 cost comes on top of the existing £11.50 congestion charge for vehicles with emission standards that pre-dates Euro 4. And there’s plans to bring forward the roll out of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to 2019, which means only diesels meeting the latest Euro 6 standards won’t have to pay a further charge.

This sets a precedent that other cities could follow. The Clean Air Zone Framework has identified five other cities including Derby, Birmingham and Nottingham that need to improve air quality significantly. It’s not just the UK that is instigating plans to reduce urban air pollution. France has a scheme in place in places such as Paris, Lyon and Lille, which means drivers need to apply and pay for a sticker, for permission to drive in those locations.

The good news is that those who manage larger fleets tend to be more informed about government proposals and proposed industry responses and plans. In our latest Operational Fleet Insight report, 62% of fleet managers are aware of the government’s recently published Clean Air Zone Framework and 66% of them support the introduction of them, but many feel more should be done to help facilitate the introduction of alternative fuels. Nearly half of fleet managers (47%) feel that governmental organisations should be lobbying for greater investment in electric vehicle infrastructure.

However, fleet managers are already counting on changes to their fleets. Currently, 94% of fleets are made up of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, but in five years’ time, fleet managers expect that to have dropped to 74%. Correspondingly, while fleets have 30% of vehicles powered by alternative fuels, that is expected to rise to 63% in the next five years.

Yet, that growth is dependent on improvements in terms of the capabilities of alternative fuelled vehicles. Many fleet managers can feel under pressure to investigate alternatively powered vehicles, but feel they lack the information to make the right strategic decision or feel the government, manufacturers and suppliers are just not pushing the agenda forward quickly enough.

Fleet decision makers also want to see improvements in electric vehicles (EVs) capabilities. The biggest of which is an EVs’ range with 82% of fleet managers citing this in our Operational Report. Lack of infrastructure also ranks the same as limited range for an area of concern among fleet managers who want to see more charging stations, and a wider range of vehicle choice is close behind at 80%. Electric vehicles will also need to handle larger payloads with 79% of fleet managers registering this as a concern to overcome if they are going put EVs on their fleet.

Fleet managers want to see the government leading the way to make it easier for fleets to consider using an alternative fuel, especially following the publication of the proposed Clear Air Zone Framework that’s designed to reduce air pollution in built-up areas.

Across the different business sectors, there are varying degrees of awareness of the government’s Clean Air Zone Framework with the Business Services sector having the highest awareness at 75% while it is the Construction & Facilities Management sector that has the lowest at 49%. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are not far behind in having the lowest awareness at 58%, while IT & Telecoms have a shade more awareness at 59%.

What is clear is that of those that know about Clean Air Zones, all are aware of the enormous impact a Clean Air Zone would have on them if they came into effect. Many operational vehicles are used in urban areas so understanding the latest government regulations and ensuring that all the fleet vehicles comply with emissions targets is key.

It’s not that fleets are against Clean Air Zones – indeed 65% of all the business verticals support the idea with many agreeing with the benefits that could come from the implementation of them in cities. For instance, 71% of all the business verticals agreed with the idea of lower parking fees for ultra-low emission vehicles and 73% agreed with the idea of free entry into Clean Air Zones for vehicles meeting minimum emissions standards.

For those making more decisions about their businesses’ vehicle parc, few disagree with the idea of Clean Air Zones or aren’t aligned with the desire to improve the nation’s air quality. But while there is agreement on the goal for reducing pollution in cities, the majority of fleet managers want to see more done by the government, manufacturers and suppliers to make the uptake of alternate fuelled vehicles an easier and cost-effective proposition. After all, if we are to keep Britain moving and improve our air quality, then everyone has an important role to play in achieving this.

For further information email theaa@provapr.co.uk