The city council has pledged to be among the first local authorities in Scotland to introduce radical new “low- emission zones”, which would see the drivers of polluting vehicles fined for entering high-pollution areas.
Councillors have voted to research a system to combat rising emissions.
Vehicle plates would be scanned electronically when drivers entered one of the zones and fines automatically issued.
Although the scheme would primarily be aimed at buses, commercial vehicles and HGVs, “gas-guzzling” cars would also be targeted.
All local authorities must ensure nitrogen dioxide levels are below 20 micrograms per cubic metre of air (mcg/m3) by 2015 or face fines from the European Union.
The annual average level in Edinburgh is currently 40mcg/m3, with St John’s Road in Corstorphine reaching 71mcg/m3.
A report to the transport and environment committee yesterday also found Great Junction Street, Easter Road and the Grassmarket to be among the worst.
Transport convenor Gordon MacKenzie said efforts to persuade bus and haulage firms to use low-emission vehicles had largely failed, except in the case of Lothian Buses.
He said: “We’ve got to start preparing to introduce low-emission zones now if we are to meet those targets by 2015. Voluntary measures have not proved adequate and we need to move to statutory measures.
“These things are not cheap to do, but there will be a substantial saving from not having to pay fines and there will be an income from fines for high-emission vehicles.”
Although the council has committed to explore the scheme, it voted to wait until a Scottish Government report on low-emission zones is published early next year.
Green councillor Steve Burgress said: “I’d welcome the discussions about emissions because certain areas of the city have been breaking safety standards for up to ten years in the case of the city centre.
“Up until now the council had been talking about voluntary measures, which clearly haven’t got anywhere, and we’ve three years to bring emissions down to 20mcg/m3 – but if the Scottish Government guidance comes out late next year and then there is three months for consultation, we’re then in 2013 and going towards failing on those targets.”
Andrew Howard, from the AA, said many families with older larger family cars had fallen foul of the low-emission zones in other cities.
He said: “It all depends on where you set the levels. In some cases you get a family with four kids with an older Renault Espace, you find yourself classed as a ‘gas guzzler’ or a ‘gross polluter’, whereas in fact it’s all you can afford.
“It’s all down to consultation with the public, understanding why certain people have larger cars, and then choosing the most appropriate level.”