Dublin City Council is looking at making the city, or parts of it, a “low-emissions zone”, acting executive manager Brendan O’Brien said last week.

“The consideration of a low-emissions zone is something that we need to consider,” he said, at a meeting of the council’s transport committee – pointing to the impact that London’s scheme has had on air pollution.

A low-emissions zone is basically an area from which vehicles with high emissions, or major polluting vehicles, are banned – or which they are charged a fee to enter.

A council spokesperson said the council is looking at what legislation would be necessary to bring in such a scheme, and how the council could monitor cars driving in and out of any such zone.

On Bad Air

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends low-emissions zones as a way to combat poor air quality.

The agency’s Air Quality in Ireland 2018 report found that levels at monitoring sites in Ireland were below European Union limits. But a number of sites were above the World Health Organization’s guidelines for fine particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide.

The report pointed to St John’s Road beside Heuston Station as one spot where data from monitoring suggested that levels of nitrogen dioxide would “exceed the EU limit value in the near future”.

On Tuesday afternoon, there was a smell of gasoline on both sides of St John’s Road. Taxis sat by the pavement, engines running as they waited for train travelers to arrive from Heuston Station.

Newer Vehicles

Hundreds of cities in Europe have low-emissions zones. London has both a low-emissions zone, which covers most of Greater London, and a stricter ultra-low-emissions zone, which covers Central London.

Vehicles not meeting the thresholds for the zones have to pay daily amounts ranging from £12.50 to £200, with plans to hike charges for some vehicles further next year.

Since London brought in its ultra-low-emissions zone almost three years ago, roadside nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen by 36 percent and the number of polluting cars driving in the zone daily has fallen from roughly 35,500 to 22,000, according to a report by Transport for London.

Some factors have made low-emissions zones less successful than they might have been though, says Dr Gary Fuller, a senior lecturer in air-pollution management at King’s College London and author of Invisible Killer: the Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution – and How We Can Fight Back.

For one, “they rely on new vehicles producing less air pollution and this hasn’t always been the case”, says Dr Fuller.

Cars on roads emit more pollution than they do in laboratories, he says. “So that’s the fundamental problem with low-emissions zones in that they rely on newer cars being less polluting than their old ones.”

As other cities have done, one thing that Dublin City Council will be looking at is what class of car should be allowed into a low-emissions zone, said a council spokesperson.

The European Union classes vehicles between Euro 1 and Euro 6 – with Euro 6 being the latest models with the lowest emissions.

“Therefore for a very stringent zone, it would be Euro class 6 only but this would mean a considerable number of older vehicles would be excluded as Euro 6 are vehicles manufactured after September 2015,” the spokesperson said.

Dr Fuller says that there are reasons to be positive about Euro 6 cars. They “do actually produce less pollution than the vehicles that they are replacing”, he says.

Other Concerns

Some in Dublin worry about how introducing a low-emissions zone would impact people on lower incomes.

“In general I would love to see significant action taken to improve air quality in the city,” says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.

But “I would have my main reservation at the moment would be from an equality point of view”, she says.

Low-emissions zones result in a decrease in polluting cars as they put a charge on these cars driving through the designated areas, arguably giving people more of an incentive to use electric cars.

But electric vehicles are expensive and will remain so for a long time to come, Horner says. “Any examination of a low emission zone would have to be looked at how the people with lower income would be impacted.”

The cheapest electric cars are those such as the Renault Zoe, which is priced at €25,590. Meanwhile, the Nissan Leaf is priced at €29,890 and the Hyundai Ioniq Electric €34,850.

One initial concern was that low-emissions zones would create “ring roads” around areas, and cars with high emissions would drive on these. But London disproved that, said Dr Fuller.

By making incentives for more eco-friendly cars and public transport, the surrounding areas benefit too, he says.

There are also concerns about whether Dublin’s public-transport system is adequate for people to switch to, if the new scheme pushes them to stop driving their cars into the city.

“The department is pursuing a line of really strongly supporting electric vehicles and I feel not doing enough to support sustainable modes of transport,” said Horner.

“I would be concerned about Dublin City Council following that mandate of supporting people with electric cars while not doing enough to support others that don’t use cars at all,” she says.

Dr Fuller said that: “One thing transport for London did was invest a huge amount in upgrading the bus fleet which is really important for central London.”

Here in Ireland, the National Transport Authority has proposed BusConnects, its overhaul of the city’s bus service, which would also include the installation of new cycle lanes. The consultation process and tweaking the designs is ongoing.

Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on donal@dublininquirer.com

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