Low Emission Zone
Laura Del Vecchio
Picasa © Sylvain @ stock.adobe.com
Low Emission Zones
Low Emission Zones (LEZ) are an urban policy that aims to tackle pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and congestion by restricting or limiting the access of fossil fuel vehicles in certain zones. The measures to enable LEZs range from charging fees depending on the exhaust emissions produced by a vehicle, to restricting the circulation of private cars.
Different from a pedestrian zone, in which cars are not allowed to circulate, LEZs permit only authorized vehicles. Taxis and disabled badge holders are typically exempt. However, LEZ policies feed into a broader movement of cities moving towards reducing vehicles in city centers. Different applications of LEZ solutions range from urban restriction policies in London and Madrid, the 'pico y placa' initiative in Mexico City where the right to drive on any particular day depends on the final digit of the license plate, or in Venice and Spain’s Pontevedra which have outright bans. In Paris, for example, the initiative of creating zones within a designated area rather than a whole city has been shown to be a more socio-economically acceptable option for authorities.
LEZs can be backed up by a sticker with ab Active RFID Tag that classifies vehicles according to the level of emissions they produce, establishing hours in which cars are allowed to move around, or by radar control. Examples in Europe include the Danish Eco Sticker, Austrian Environmental Badge "Pickerl", German Nitrogen Oxide Badge, and the French anti-pollution Crit'Air sticker. In Belgium, vehicles, including foreign vehicles, must be registered before entering an LEZ, which are in operation in Antwerp, Brussels, and, soon, Ghent. In London, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) enables cameras to read number plates to check if the vehicle meets the LEZ standards.
Other methods to implement or complement a LEZ include imposing a charge, or road pricing for all or certain vehicles, or a ban of the most polluting vehicles, or even all internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Madrid’s LEZ banned the most polluting vehicles (diesel vehicles produced prior to 2006 and petrol vehicles prior to 2000) ahead of a planned total ban on private vehicles (except residents) by 2025.
Regulating vehicle access to city public areas forces personal car and motorcycle owners to have a greater conscious responsibility for their emissions. This policy holds great promise in improving air quality while reducing the emission of fine particles, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone. It also makes hyper-dense city centers a safer and more pleasant, pedestrian-friendly, and recreational environment. However, policies need to be backed up by a robust public transport system, including Multimodal Transportation Ticketing as found in Scandinavian models. Incentives such as a Bike Commuting Tax Incentive can help increase the uptake of more sustainable modes of transport.
Some projects aim to take this technology a step further and implement Zero Emission Zones, in which no motorized greenhouse gas-emitting vehicles are allowed; only exhaust-free vehicles like electric cars would be welcome. Incentivizing electric vehicles also provides the added benefit of decreasing sound pollution. Electric vehicles are significantly quieter than their gas-guzzling counterparts, creating a pleasant zone for pedestrians. Signatory cities to the C40 Green and Healthy Streets Declaration have pledged to ensure a major area of the city is zero emission by 2030.
On the other hand, aligning fees with the amount of pollution emitted by each vehicle would likely end up solely benefiting the owners of new vehicles — at the detriment to citizens who own older ones. Paradoxically, this would end up charging higher fees to older vehicle owners, who generally have lower incomes. This is a crucial point to consider when developing these zones; reducing pollution is crucial, but maintaining access for all citizens is arguably as important.
So far, LEZs have mostly focussed on reducing pollution from vehicles. However, there is potential for such zones to address pollution from the burning of solid waste, cooking fuels, and industrial emissions.