I applaud Bristol for banning diesel vehicles. But why not ban all private cars?

(The Guardian, 4 Nov 2019) However welcome this plan is, the climate emergency demands truly radical steps.

West Country asthmatics breathed a deep sigh of relief last week, as Bristol city council unveiled long-awaited plans for a clean air zone in the city. The proposals would see a total daytime ban (from 7am to 3pm) on diesel vehicles entering a small central zone – a first in the UK, though increasingly common across the continent – plus a new charge for entering a wider area.

If approved tomorrow, the scheme will come into force in 2021. It cannot come too soon for Bristol’s most vulnerable residents: illegally poor air quality currently contributes to 333 annual premature deaths from respiratory illnesses in the city.

Preliminary results from a similar scheme in London, the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), are even better than expected, with toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions down by nearly a third, demonstrating that this approach can really work. In one respect, Bristol’s plan goes one better, as its proposed scrappage scheme – financial compensation for ditching old diesel vehicles – includes an option, unlike London’s, to redeem value against an electric bicycle or on public transport.

But one curious feature of the plans exposes Bristol’s clean air zone as a microcosm of national policy paralysis, and demonstrates a collective failure of imagination on transport and the environment. The city intends to charge commercial diesel vehicles including buses for entering the wider clean air zone – while exempting private cars. They argue that charging private motorists would disproportionately affect low-income households that depend on their cars to get around, and in the absence of alternatives this is undoubtedly true.

External link

The Guardian, 4 Nov 2019: I applaud Bristol for banning diesel vehicles. But why not ban all private cars?