Low Emission Zones (LEZs) are being examined as city councils in Scotland look to meet more stringent European Union targets on air quality.
The Scottish Government will host a series of public events to discuss a new Low Emission Strategy later this year.
Glasgow and Edinburgh are both expected to miss their EU emissions targets, Edinburgh City Council transport officials said yesterday.
Figures released by the UK Department of Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra) also estimate Edinburgh is now due to meet its target in 2020 – five years later than hoped. Glasgow is not expected to hit its 2020 target until 2025.
The introduction of LEZs could mean older buses and heavy goods vehicles in particular would face a total ban from designated streets or be excluded at certain times of day.
Other vehicles, such as large four-wheel drives, which do not meet emission standards, could be hit with a financial penalty.
LEZs typically feature cameras which scan vehicle number plates and determine if the vehicle is a heavy polluter. Any driver found to take a high-emission car through the controlled area would be automatically fined.
Berlin, Copenhagen and London have already adopted LEZ. In London, the scheme targets buses, coaches and the most polluting lorries over 3.5 tonnes. Failure to meet emissions standards leads to a £200 daily charge.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) has backed the new move and said more than 2,000 premature deaths every year in Scotland are attributable to air pollution. Asthma, heart disease and lung problems are also worsened by toxic particles in the air, it said. FoE air pollution campaigner Emilia Hanna said: “We support the call for Low Emission Zones to be rolled out across cities in Scotland. Any LEZs should apply to cars, vans and HGVs as well, as it’s not just buses which cause air pollution.”
All local authorities must ensure nitrogen dioxide levels are below 20 micrograms per cubic metre of air (mcg/m3) or face fines from the European Union.
Despite missing its EU target, air quality in Edinburgh is improving and an assessment of nitrogen dioxide data showed an improvement during 2013.
Edinburgh transport leader, Councillor Lesley Hinds, said: “I am heartened by the general positive trend in air quality. Work carried out by bus and freight companies is having an undoubted impact on emissions. However, it is clear there is still a lot to be done to reduce harmful emissions in Edinburgh.”
Neil Greig, a transport policy expert from the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “The introduction of LEZs is dependent on how it is set and who it’s designed to catch. If it’s aimed at older diesel engines, such as vans and lorries, then it’s fine by us.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are working with stakeholders to develop a Low Emissions Strategy.”
Health Protection Scotland has said 306 deaths in Glasgow and 205 in Edinburgh were attributable to pollution in 2010.