As anyone who visited the twin cities of London and Westminster, UK during the late 90s or early noughties will tell you, England’s capital city wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to be. Aside from the chronic gridlock on London’s roads, heavy pollution was a major problem, caking anything left outside with a thick black grime — caused by millions of vehicles spewing dirty exhaust gasses onto everything — that was both unpleasant to look at and also carcinogenic.
Indeed, as someone who spent four years in the Greater London area while an undergraduate, this author can testify that while cycling in London was far cheaper (if more risky) than taking public transport, a full-filtration pollution mask was an essential piece of safety equipment for any cyclist who valued their health.
Mercifully, since then, London has worked hard to tackle both air pollution and congestion within its boundaries, implementing a congestion charging zone designed to encourage less private car use in London through daily charges on anyone wishing to drive their private car through the centre of town. At the same time, it encouraged those who needed to drive into London to choose a more environmentally-responsible vehicle, offering partial and full congestion charging exemption for owners of certain hybrid, low emission and electric vehicles.
As vehicle emissions have improved, so too have the requirements for congestion charging exemption, with the latest requirements exempting only the cleanest vehicles from entering London’s congestion charging zone. Today, commercial vehicles are also restricted, with an outright ban on vehicles which do not meet Euro 4 emissions requirements (Euro 3 for Minibuses, Caravans and Ambulances).
To date, London’s iconic black taxicabs have been subject to the same emissions requirements as many other vehicles in central London. But from 1 January 2018, any new vehicle being registered as a taxi or private hire vehicle in the Greater London area will have to be capable of zero emission travel too.
The standards, finalised and announced earlier today following a second consultation with trade associations and operators, mark the first official steps from the Mayor of London and Transport for London towards a goal of ensuring all licensed private hire vehicles operating in London are zero-emissions capable by 2023, regardless of age. It’s all part of a plan for the Greater London Area which seeks to ensure that only vehicles capable of Ultra Low Emissions (or zero emissions) are allowed into the centre of the UK’s capital city.
That goal has been something of a personal crusade for London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has been campaigning for zero-emissions taxi cabs in London for a long time. But in order to make the switch from diesel to plug-in hybrid and electric operation, the Mayor’s office has found itself facing the might of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association of London, which while supportive of the drive towards zero emission taxis, has maintained that London would need to offer financial assistance as well as specially-reserved taxi-only charging infrastructure to make the switch possible.
While it’s not clear if the LTDAL was able to obtain taxi-only charging infrastructure during the second-round of talks, the the Mayor’s office and TfL say a total of £65 million ($99.7 million) in funding has now been secured in order to help the taxi and private hire industries achieve a total of 9,000 zero-emission capable taxi cabs on London’s road by 2020.
Traditionally, the life of a taxi cab in London is fifteen years, with any vehicle over that age ineligible for an operational licence. . But under the new scheme, drivers who wish to retire their vehicles after just ten years of operation to buy a cleaner, greener vehicle will be offered £5,000 in incentives to switch, with the exact amount dependent on how old the vehicle is. In addition, a £5,000 plug-in car grant, available from the UK Office for Low Emission vehicles, can knock a further £5,000 off the purchase price of a zero-emission capable taxi cab, while a £3,000 ‘top-up’ grant can also be added if required.
That discount — up to £13,000 in total — is great news for the thousands of self-employed licensed black cab operators who drive the streets of London every day. Since many own their own vehicles, the incentives not only mean they will be able to switch to a more environmentally-friendly vehicle but also enjoy a massive cut in fuel bills too.
While the scheme will shortly go into operation for those eager to get a headstart, those buying a new taxi cab between now and 1 January, 2018 can, should they wish, still buy a diesel-powered cab. But after that point, all new taxi cabs must have zero-emission capabilities, meaning only plug-in hybrid, fully-electric, or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be licensed.
It’s worth noting however that the 1 January 2018 watershed only applies to licensed hackney carriages — the iconic black cabs which you can legally hail on the street — not private hire (pre-booked) minicabs.
Because private-hire vehicles are usually regular production passenger vehicles of various shapes and sizes — and are less strictly regulated than hackney carriages — these vehicles will be given an additional two years to comply. Any new minicabs licenced for the first time between 1 January 2018 and 31 December 2019 will be required to meet either Euro 6 emissions standards (diesel or petrol), or Euro 4 gasoline-hybrid standards, but from January 1 2020, these too will have to be zero-emission vehicles if they are under 18 months of age.
Come 1 January 2023, all vehicles used for hire in London, be they private hire or hackney carriage, will need to have zero emissions capability in order to be granted an operating license.
“The taxi and minicab trades have a crucial role to play in helping to improve London’s air quality,” said the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. “This is why we have made them a central part of our Ultra Low Emission Zone plans. We understand that this will take time and that is why we are giving financial assistance to help clean up these vehicle fleets. The Ultra Low Emission Zone is the most ambitious measure of its kind in the world and we need everyone on board for it to be a success.”
While there’s only a handful of options for licenced Hackney Cab operators seeking for an ultra-low emission vehicle at the moment — including a plug-in hybrid taxi cab — there are of course plenty of options for minicabs already on the market today, ranging from the Nissan LEAF EV through to the mighty Tesla Model S.
We’ll be paying close attention to see just which vehicles prove popular with both operators.
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