How low emission zones work

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Low emission zones are included in the new Transport (Scotland) Bill which was introduced in Parliament on 8 June 2018.

The Bill will set the national framework for Scottish local authorities to introduce and enforce low emission zones. It will allow the Scottish Government to set consistent national standards for a number of key aspects including emissions, penalties, exemptions and parameters for grace periods.

Local authorities will design each low emission zone based on their specific, local requirements. The Bill will give local authorities the powers to create, enforce, operate or revoke a low emission zone in their area and to design the shape, size and vehicle scope of individual low emission zones.

It is proposed that:

  • low emission zone entry will still be based on the Euro emission engine classification standards – the proposed minimum criteria is:
    • Euro six for diesel cars
    • Euro four for petrol cars
    • Euro VI for heavy diesel vehicles (including older retrofitted engines which would be improved to operate as Euro VI).
  • low emission zones operate continuously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round
  • enforcement will utilise Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, linked to a national vehicle licencing database, to monitor vehicles driving in a low emission zone and to detect vehicles which do not comply with the minimum Euro emission standards
  • low emission zones will be based on a penalty notice approach to discourage non-compliant vehicles from driving in the zone
  • the design, implementation and operation of low emission zones will involve grace periods to allow commercial fleet operators and private vehicle owners time to prepare
  • exemptions will be specified in regulations
  • local authorities publish a report annually on the effectiveness of low emission zones.

Euro emission standards

Vehicle emissions standards are part of the low emission zone proposals included in the Transport (Scotland) Bill which was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 8 June 2018. Whilst the Bill does not set the mandatory vehicle emissions standards for driving in a low emission zone, it does set provisions for Ministers to create such regulations.

The consultation titled ‘Building Scotland’s Low Emission Zones’ outlined proposals for the minimum emission standards for low emission zones to be Euro four for petrol engines (generally vehicles registered from 2005) and Euro six for diesel engines (generally registered from 2014). The use of Euro standards in this manner is commonplace across European low emission zones.

Whilst there is currently no database available for the public to check their vehicle against the corresponding Euro standard, the DVLA are developing such a programme.

The current proxy is to use vehicle age as a guide to the corresponding Euro classification, noting the dates when each Euro category was introduced. The Euro six standard for diesel cars was introduced in September 2014, with any new car sold after September 2015 having to meet this standard. The Euro 4 standard for petrol engines was introduced in January 2005, with any new vehicles sold after January 2006 having to meet this standard.

Support for bus operators

The Scottish Government has invested £1.6m in the Bus Emission Abatement Retrofitting Programme (BEAR) to prepare for low emission zones. Launched in 2018, £993,648 in grants have been issued to eight bus operators in relation to 47 buses. Phase 2 of the BEAR scheme was launched on 26 October 2018 making £7.89 million available to bus and coach operators.

In addition, the Scottish Green Bus Fund (SGBF), now in its eighth year, opened to bus operators, local authorities and regional transport partnerships in May 2018. The fund aims to encourage more low carbon emission buses onto Scotland’s roads. The previous seven rounds of the fund provided over £16 million, resulting in over 360 low carbon emission buses joining the Scottish fleet.

Operators of low carbon buses also remain eligible for an enhanced rate of the Bus Service Operators Grant which further incentivises the uptake and use of green buses – click to find out more about the Green Bus Fund and Bus Service Operators Grant.

Support for business/members of the public

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting the move towards cleaner, low carbon modes of transport. Various grants and loans are available via the Energy Saving Trust.

In the Programme for Government for 2018-19 – Delivering for Today, Investing for Tomorrow – the Scottish Government has committed to help those who will have the most difficulty in making the transition to a low emission zone by creating a support fund that will target specific cohorts of both commercial and private vehicle owners affected by the introduction of the zones in Scottish cities’. Further details of this will be available in Spring 2019.