CAZ marks first 100 days

Bath’s Clean Air Zone has now been in operation for 100 days and Bath & North East Somerset Council has revealed the number of polluting, chargeable vehicles seen driving in the zone is gradually falling, as vehicles are replaced with cleaner, compliant ones not subject to charges.

Bath’s Clean Air Zone was launched on 15 March 2021 to urgently tackle harmful levels of air pollution caused mostly by polluting taxis, vans, buses and larger commercial vehicles regularly driving in the city.

A charging zone works to reduce pollution in Bath by levying a £9 or £100 a day charge on anyone driving a higher emission vehicle in the zone. This excludes private cars which are not charged.  At the same time, generous grants and interest-free finance is being made available to encourage the swift replacement of these vehicles with cleaner, compliant ones. The aim is to take the city’s most polluting vehicles off the roads more quickly than would otherwise naturally happen – and there is an early sign that this is working.

30,000 to 40,000 unique vehicles enter Bath’s CAZ each day, numbers that have increased week on week since lockdown restrictions have eased. Around 1,100 to 1,400 (3 to 4%) of these vehicles are chargeable, non-compliant vehicles i.e. higher emission taxis, vans, coaches, lorries etc. But while the total number of vehicles entering the zone has risen, the proportion of chargeable vehicles has fallen from around 5 per cent of total vehicles seen, to between 3 to 4 per cent.

Sarah Warren, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Climate and Sustainable Travel, said “The fall in the number of non-compliant vehicles seen in the zone reflects the success of the council’s financial assistance scheme, and a big effort among businesses nationally to respond to the introduction of Bath’s, Birmingham’s and soon Bristol and Portsmouth’s Clean Air Zones by upgrading vehicles and reorganizing fleets.

“While we won’t know the impact on air quality until the first three months’ of data is released to the public in the autumn, the fact that compliance is improving means we’re moving in the right direction.”

The council’s financial assistance scheme is on course to replace 1,500 non-compliant vehicles driving regularly in the zone by the end of the year, and the council is now requesting more funds from the government to extend the scheme.

Councillor Sarah Warren said, “Already 240 of the city’s most polluting vehicles have already been replaced with cleaner, compliant vehicles through the scheme. This includes around 55 polluting taxis and private hire vehicles that drive in the city centre every day. Hundreds more businesses have recently been approved for finance after completing a 60-day assessment of their vehicles – so it won’t be long until more than 1,000 of the most polluting vehicles regularly driving on our roads are replaced with cleaner ones. This will make a real difference to the air we breathe.

“We’ve also been supporting these businesses with exemptions from charges while they’re assessed or waiting for new vehicles to be delivered. This has encouraged businesses sitting on the fence over whether or not to replace their vehicle to apply for finance and has provided additional support for businesses as they recover from the pandemic restrictions.”

Alongside this, the council has helped to upgrade more than 80 buses on the city’s scheduled bus routes, which means that all of the 220 buses on scheduled routes will be compliant with the new emission standards by the end of the summer.

The council is also working closely with the area’s first responders and emergency teams, who are keen to show leadership. Emergency and health service vehicles are exempt from charges in the zone for up to five years to help protect vital services, however Avon and Somerset Police, Avon Fire and Rescue Service and South Western Ambulance Service Foundation have all been working closely with the council, updating and reorganizing fleets so that – as far as possible – vehicles are compliant in the zone.

Becky Reynolds, Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Director of Public Health said: “The council is doing its very best to tackle the high levels of air pollution in the city without delay. Air pollution, caused by vehicle emissions, can trigger asthma attacks, and make heart and lung conditions worse. It can also stunt children’s lung development. Such high levels of pollution in Bath (which exceed the UK legal limits) are not acceptable. We’re doing what we can to tackle this in the shortest possible time, which is the directive from the Government. We know that a charging CAZ is the only way we can achieve this.

“It’s therefore very promising to see this indication of success. Charges don’t work on their own to clean the air, they work alongside the financial incentives given to local businesses to invest in cleaner vehicles, and also by raising awareness of what we can alldo to help – which includes leaving our cars at home when we can, and walking and cycling our shorter journeys instead.”