Dirty engine buses face Glasgow city centre ban

Hope Street is among Glasgow city centre's most polluted streets. Picture: John Devlin
Hope Street is among Glasgow city centre's most polluted streets. Picture: John Devlin
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Buses lacking the cleanest diesel engines would be the first vehicles to be banned from Glasgow city centre under anti-pollution measures due to be introduced next year.

Firms could ultimately lose their operating licences if they ran other buses through what’s expected to be Scotland’s first low emission zone (LEZ), the city council said today.

However, bus firms expressed anger at being singled out and warned that fares could rise and services cut.

Environmental campaigners also urged that other vehicles should be included in the restrictions from the start.

The council is expected to impose quotas on operators that will progressively increase the proportion of buses in the zone required to have compliant engines.

At present, just one in ten buses in main operator First Glasgow’s fleet have such Euro VI engines.

The council plans to target the 800 buses which use the city centre first because they cause the greatest health-threatening nitrogen dioxide pollution.

Some 300 premature deaths a year in Glasgow are caused by poor air quality.

The council hopes the move will reduced levels of the pollutant in the worst thoroughfares, such as Hope Street, by about 25 per cent.

In such streets, buses cause 70 per cent of the pollution.

The council has given no indication of when cars, taxis and lorries would face restrictions.

However, three quarters of diesel cars and taxis do not have the required cleanest engines.

That also goes for half the total number of cars in the city.

The LEZ boundaries have not been set, but it could cover an area bordered by the M8, River Clyde and High Street/Saltmarket, similar to the current air quality management area.

The Scottish Government is expected to help fund the retrofitting of bus engines so their exhausts can become complaint.

The council said it would cost about £15,000 per bus - a tenth of the £150,000 cost of a new vehicle.

LEZ restrictions would be enforced using number plate cameras, which already operate on some streets to deter other vehicles from using bus lanes.

The council expects Traffic Commissioner for Scotland Joan Aitken to add conditions to operators’ licences to enforce the restrictions.

If firms broke their quotas for the number of non-compliant buses entering the zone, they could be reported to the commissioner.

Sanctions include licences to operate being revoked.

Anna Richardson, the council’s sustainability and carbon reduction convener, said the bus quotas would be based on “what’s reasonable within a certain time period...the timescales are up for debate”.

She said: “People using buses have a right to be on clean buses and breathe clean air at bus stops.”

“It will make the city centre more pleasant and make for a nicer public transport experience.”

Ms Richardson added that if cars were restricted at a later stage, “We are not saying you have to change your car, but you may not be able to bring it into the heart of town.

“The city centre is very accessible by cycling, walking and public transport.”

However, the council stressed the city centre’s pollution levels did not make it dangerous to visit, as limits for short-term exposure had not been breached.

Although Glasgow has been in the lead, Edinburgh also wants to have Scotland’s LEZ.

It is possible that the capital might be chosen first, as a higher proportion of its buses have the cleanest diesel engines.

These include one in three of Lothian Buses’ fleet - the city’s main operator, and one in five of First Scotland East’s.

However, Glasgow’s need is arguably greater, with one third more deaths from pollution than the 200 a year in Edinburgh.

Transport minister Humza Yousaf, who launched a Scotland-wide consultation on LEZs two weeks ago, has said only that the first will be established next year.

The three other largest cities - which also include Aberdeen and Dundee - would follow by 2020.

Friends of the Earth applauded Glasgow’s “strong” proposal but said other vehicles should be included from the start.

Air pollution campaigner Emilia Hanna said: “LEZs are a life saving intervention, proven to reduce harmful levels of emissions and Glasgow City Council is to be congratulated for bringing forward plans which will allow children to breathe cleaner air and live healthier futures.

“The area that the council has proposed, which spans the city centre, is clearly the right choice, because this busy area, where many people live, work and relax in is a designated pollution zone which regularly experiences dangerous levels of pollution.

“Whilst the council’s ambition to have an LEZ is welcome, it’s very disappointing the plans would only restrict buses in the first instance.

“The Glasgow LEZ should apply to buses, lorries, and vans from the start and to include cars and taxis at a later stage.”

The Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents bus operators, warned the plans could see fare increase and services cut.

Spokesman Paul White: “It is disappointing the council has drafted this report without consulting local bus operators or waiting for the ongoing national LEZ consultation to conclude.

“Introducing an LEZ without proper consideration of the impact on bus operators can lead to unintended consequences that gravely damage the wider bus service network.

“Operators unable to meet new vehicle standards may be forced to withdraw services operating within the LEZ or mitigate the cost of accelerated fleet renewal through the farebox.

“Both reactions will reduce bus use, increase car journeys, and worsen congestion and air quality.

“We will look to engage with the council to discuss this report and what complementary measures it intends to put in place to reduce congestion, increase traffic speeds and enable modal shift to bus.

“If that is not the council’s intended approach, then this report is punitive to bus passengers and will fail to tackle the underlying causes of poor city centre air quality.”

First Glasgow said buses should not be targeted first.

Managing director Andrew Jarvis said: “We are fully supportive of the Scottish Government’s plans for LEZs and we believe improving air quality can be best achieved through working in partnership with Glasgow City Council and other partners and stakeholders.

“However, as Glasgow’s biggest bus operator, First Glasgow is deeply disappointed that the city council’s proposals focus only on bus, which is the one form of road transport capable of reducing congestion and improving air quality on the city’s roads, given that one bus can absorb the people from 75 cars.

“In particular, this bus-only approach is in stark contrast to the current Transport Scotland consultation, Building Scotland’s Low Emission Zones, which specifically states that ‘bus-only LEZs are not being proposed in this consultation for any location in Scotland’.

“Our disappointment continues with the lack of engagement and consultation surrounding these specific proposals.”

The council denied the LEZ was designed to be bus only.

A report on its plans will be considered by the city administration committee next Thursday.

Ms Richardson said: “Poor air quality is a significant public health concern and a major social justice issue for Glasgow.

“This report is the first step towards reaching our aspiration to be the first city in Scotland to introduce a LEZ and we will be actively consulting with the public and organisations as part of this.

“This is the start of the conversation and certainly not, by any means, a final proposal.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, said: “We welcome that Glasgow City Council is already giving consideration to the implementation of a LEZ. We would encourage local authorities to be ambitious in their proposals for LEZs.

“We have launched a detailed national consultation on low emission zones to ensure the public’s views are fully taken into account.”