National Road Pricing a Step Closer, while NO₂ Impact in Doubt

The likely proliferation of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in many of the UK’s cities with many of them introducing charging systems for non-compliant vehicles will lead to the widespread adoption of camera systems for enforcement. That is how the London Congestion Charge and the expanded ULEZ which will cover most of London is being enforced. In other words, cameras everywhere.

One inconvenience for drivers would have been the complexity of paying the charges if local councils all operated their own systems. This is already a problem in London where there is no common registration and auto-payment system for the Congestion/ULEZ system and the Dartford Crossing on the M25. But the Government have already anticipated this according to a report in Local Transport Today who were told that the Government is setting up a central payment system to support the local authorities. It seems that local authorities will still have a role in enforcement however – that probably means they will be able to retain the profits they can make from fines which will of course make such systems even more attractive than they would otherwise be.

As the ABD said in our recent press release announcing the publication of the truth about air pollution and vehicles (see http://www.abd.org.uk/air-quality-and-vehicles-the-truth/ ), the prime objective [from attacks on allegedly polluting vehicles] often appears to be simply the desire to extract money from car drivers and other vehicle users. Local authorities will perceive this as a godsend to solve their budget problems.

A national system of collecting payment for local CAZs does of course mean that introducing a national road pricing system would be very easy – just need to put up lots of cameras. Indeed with most of the major conurbations covered by CAZ and charging systems, that’s what we will have in place and ready to use for wider purposes.

There is strong public resistance to road pricing. But you can see the way the wind is blowing on this subject. You’ll know when it happens when the current air pollution legal limits are met but the enforcement stays in place or is extended to lower emission vehicles. Anyone wish to take a bet on that?

NO₂ Impact in Doubt

One of the reasons why the Government has mandated CAZs for many cities is the failure to comply with current legal limits on NO₂ (Nitrogen Dioxide). That gas was judged to have a major impact on life expectancy from past scientific studies even though it is difficult to separate out the impact of NO₂ from other pollutants such as particulates. Now COMEAP, the Government sponsored authority on this subject, have published a report that questions the impact of NO₂ with committee members taking varied views on whether it has any impact on health at all. The committee settled on an estimate that reducing NO₂ by 1 μg/m3 would increase life expectancy by around 2 to 5 days, but some committee members fundamentally disagreed on even that calculation. See the COMEAP report here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/734799/COMEAP_NO2_Report.pdf for details.

It would seem that Government policy is being driven by dubious or uncertain science. But drivers on the roads of major cities will be facing big cost increases as a result.

Meanwhile Birmingham’s CAZ is shown as being poor value for money based on an economic appraisal by the local Council. Even taking into account the health and environmental benefits of £38 million over ten years, the costs imposed on drivers and vehicle owners results in overall negative costs of minus £122 million as a “net present value”. So just as with the extended ULEZ in London, we are seeing decisions being taken to pursue hopelessly unjustifiable attacks on air pollution.

Roger Lawson

Air Quality and Vehicles – The Truth

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been very concerned of late with the misinformation that has been spread by the national media about the impact of air pollution from vehicles on the health of the population. We believe it is not a major health crisis but simply a major health scare fed to a gullible public by a few politicians and by journalists wanting a story.

The promotion of such stories has also led to Government over-reaction and a number of local councils proposing “Clean Air Zone” schemes aimed at restricting some vehicles from entering some roads, or charging them extra to do so in the name of reducing pollution. London is in the forefront of charging drivers using pollution as an excuse (e.g. from the ULEZ), but many other cities are planning similar schemes.

The prime objective often appears to be simply the desire to extract money from car drivers and other vehicle users.

The ABD has now published a full analysis of the issues that actually gives the truth about the claims made for air pollution, and rebuts many of the allegations. It can be downloaded from here: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Air-Quality-and-Vehicles-The-Truth.pdf

Is there actually a public health crisis? The simple answer is NO. The evidence does not support such claims.

In reality air quality has been steadily improving and will continue to do so from technical improvements to vehicles. Meanwhile life expectancy has been increasing. There is no public health crisis!

Life expectancy might be improved slightly, for example by a few days if all air pollution was removed. But air pollution does not just come from vehicles but from many other sources of human activity such as heating, industrial processes, farming, building, cooking and domestic wood burners. Only about 50% comes from transport. The air outside is typically cleaner than in people’s own homes or in offices and that is where they spend most of the time.

Removing all air pollution would be economically very expensive and leave us with no transport (buses, trains, aeroplanes or cars) and also stop all deliveries of food and other goods. You would not want to live in such a world.

We give all the evidence on our claims above in the aforementioned paper.

But the ABD does accept that air pollution does need to be improved, particularly in certain locations, and we recognise public concern about it. However we argue that measures taken to improve matters should be proportionate and cost effective. There needs to be a proper cost/benefit analysis before imposing restrictions or charges.

There are many measures that can be used to reduce vehicle emissions without restricting motorists or imposing major extra costs on them.

There is certainly no need to panic over air pollution!

 

 

Fighting For Air – Another Piece of Air Pollution Propaganda from the BBC

Last night the BBC broadcast a programme on air pollution entitled Fighting for Air (BBC2 on 19/8/2018). It was presented by Dr. Xand van Tulleken in a populist and dramatic style.

He first did a simple test by “cleansing” his system by donning a chemical weapons suit followed by 3 hours of deliberately breathing in traffic fumes. He did blood pressure tests, analysed blood composition and checked for brain function before and after. This unscientific and uncontrolled test apparently showed a slight increase in blood pressure and blood clotting and possibly a very small change in cognitive function. No actual data was given. Bearing in mind that such tests as blood pressure can vary significantly from hour to hour, and the other tests likewise, this proves nothing at all. Note that there have been a number of scientific studies of a possible link between blood coagulation and air pollution but no clear conclusions about which pollutants are relevant and no specific link to heart disease or stroke risk identified. That did not stop Dr van Tulleken alleging such a link.

He then moved to Kings Heath High Street near Birmingham. This road exceeds national legal limits for NOX apparently by a small amount at some times. It is used by a large number of diesel buses (no hybrids or electrics), and by significant numbers of HGVs. Traffic is stop/start with high congestion because of traffic lights that are not linked and road side parking as people move in and out of the parking spaces.

Dr van Tulleken persuaded the local council to suspend the parking bays for a day (filled with bay trees instead) and to synchronise the traffic flights to provide a “green wave” and he also persuaded the bus company to offer free tickets. The result was the volume of traffic remained the same, but NO2 fell by 10%. It is not clear to what extent any adjustment was made for other factors such as weather changes although mention was made that the changes were measured against wider area changes.

Local shopkeepers were not happy particularly a butcher who had traded in the road for 50 years.

Comment: In summary all this programme showed is that smoothing traffic flows may significantly reduce some emissions from vehicles. We already knew that, for example from studies of speed hump schemes. Replacing road side parking by off-street parking is clearly something that councils should look at. I only wish that removing such parking be done in my local High Street (Chislehurst in the London Borough of Bromley) which has been proposed in the past but never progressed (there is already plenty of off-street parking). It would both reduce the air pollution and reduce congestion by improving the flow of traffic.

What the programme did not demonstrate was that air pollution is a major health hazard or a public health emergency as the Doctor disclaimed. Indeed the High Street Butcher demonstrated how much cleaner his shop is than it used to be suggesting particulate emissions were lower than a few years ago.

In conclusion, another disappointing and hysterical programme on air pollution rather than a truly balanced study of the issues.

Roger Lawson

 

Do Low Levels of Air Pollution Damage Your Heart?

Following the publication of a scientific paper analysing heart condition and the impact of air pollution, the national media immediately jumped to headlines such as “Low Levels of Air Pollution Linked to Changes in the Heart” as published by the BBC. Stories were typically illustrated with pictures of traffic jams, car exhaust and visible London air pollution. Calls to reduce legal maximum air pollution figures were added.

What does this scientific paper actually show? You can read it here: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.034856 . It’s a paper by Nay Aung et al. But here are some comments on it:

  1. The paper was published in the journal “Circulation”, a small distribution specialist scientific journal, It is based on information from the UK Biobank which contains medical information on thousands of volunteers who have in this case had heart scans.
  2. The study correlated the information from 3,920 individuals to air pollution data (specifically NO2 and PM2.5) where they lived from 2005-2010.
  3. The study concluded that after adjusting for numerous other factors such as demographics (age, sex, ethnicity), anthropometrics (height, body mass), socioeconomic factors (income, employment, educational status), cardiac risk factors and physical activity there was a positive correlation between minor changes to left ventricle (LV) mass and other heart changes to air pollution levels where the volunteers were resident.
  4. Such changes to a heart are known to precede heart disease.
  5. The paper’s authors therefore concluded that “our findings add to the growing evidence of the damaging effects of ambient air pollution even in the setting of relatively low exposure levels”.

Are their conclusions justified beyond any doubt, and in particular are the popular media’s headlines justified? My conclusion is no. For example, like any epidemiological study it only provides a possible statistical association, not a direct cause. As Prof Kevin McConway commented on this paper (as reported by the BBC): “Heart disease is affected by a wide range of factors – smoking, drinking alcohol, diet, exercise, social position, and more. Suppose that people whose heart health is worse because of some of these factors are also more likely to live in places where air pollution is high. That could show up as a correlation between air pollution and heart disease, even if the pollution itself is having no direct effect on the heart”.

Another possible issue is that air pollution inside houses is known to often be many times worse than that in the most polluted streets. That pollution comes from cooking, new paint, fabrics, carpets, smoking by other residents, animal hair, etc. Lack of ventilation in houses and apartments can increase levels substantially so people who live close to noisy roads who never open their windows as a result may be particularly affected.

The report is open to attack on the detail of their statistical methods, and they also note that other similar studies did not provide the same evidence in all cases. In summary the overall evidence is quite weak. Neither does the report confirm that the minor changes noted to heart mass lead in this case to significant heart disease.

Their reference to “low exposure levels” may also be misleading because air pollution levels were not measured outside the volunteers’ houses or where they work. In addition the fact that the people studied were volunteers, i.e. were self-selected rather than being a randomised sample, could have biased the outcome even though lots of adjustments were made for possible confounding factors.

All the report really suggests is that more study should be undertaken of a possible effect. The conclusion drawn by some commentators that air pollution legal limits need to be reduced further is not substantiated by this report.

In the meantime, readers are advised not to live within a few metres of a busy road because it may be bad for your health. But that’s no surprise is it? Just living in a noisy environment is known to be very damaging to your health. High noise levels are correlated with cardiovascular disease according to the World Health Organisation. It seems it increases stress levels which has a negative impact on health.

What the Aung report does not do is justify even more aggressive attempts to reduce air pollution in cities such as London, where NOX and particulates are already falling after the mistaken support of more diesel vehicles by the Government. Road vehicles will soon no longer be a major contributor to air pollution in cities so more scaremongering of this ilk is not required.

The answer to the question posed in the headline of this article (“Do Low Levels of Air Pollution Damage Your Heart”) is simply that it is “Not proven”.

Stopping the School Run by Closing Roads

The “school run” is now a major cause of traffic congestion. It has got worse for three reasons: 1) more ownership of cars, 2) the ability of parents to apply to any school for admission of their children introduced a few years ago and 3) parents concern with the safety of their children if they walk or cycle to school.

Although schools do often have “catchment” areas that limit applications to a geographic area around the school if there are too many requests for places, in practice these are quite wide. For example, this map shows the catchment are for Coopers School in Chislehurst (London Borough of Bromley): https://www.schoolguide.co.uk/schools/coopers-school-chislehurst . For those who know the area, that means that children come from as far afield as Mottingham, Swanley and Orpington, i.e. several miles distant. Walking would be impractical, and even cycling would be difficult due to steep hills, so only buses or car use (if they don’t live near a bus route) would be an option for many children. The result is daily congestion around that school during school term times, particularly as there are several other schools in the same area including some private schools whose catchment areas could be even larger.

How to solve the school run problem? Some local councils are now looking at road closures during school opening/closing times to deter the use of cars and encourage the children to walk or cycle. Road safety benefits are also suggested. The Borough of Croydon have already experimented with such a scheme for six months at 3 schools. The access restrictions were enforced by ANPR cameras with £130 fines for infringement. Local residents within the boundary could obtain a permit. Croydon council has now decided to make the scheme permanent despite many objections from residents (some living within the boundary).

The justification for the scheme was that it would reduce air pollution and encourage more healthy life styles but there was no evidence of the air pollution being a problem (no measures were taken), and it is exceedingly unlikely that excluding vehicles from a very small area for very limited times of the day would have any impact on air quality. No evidence on road safety benefits was provided. Such schemes just cause vehicle users to park further away outside the boundary causing wider parking problems, or they turn-up and park earlier. It causes major problems for delivery drivers, or other visitors to homes within the boundary as drivers are often not aware of the scheme.

The London Borough of Greenwich is also considering such a scheme for eight schools according to an article in the Newsshopper local paper and it suggests the access restriction would even be imposed by rising bollards.

Such schemes are spreading across the country. Solihull is another example of an experimental scheme which was put in without consultation. One local councillor said they did not consult first because they thought people would object!

Another area considering using such a scheme is Cambridge County Council where one councillor has put it forward. Again this is was primarily on spurious environmental grounds. The writer of this article spoke on BBC Radio Cambridge on the subject on 17/7/2018 and I suggested that such policies emanate mainly from car haters and that no evidence is provided on the environmental or other benefits.

There is another motivation for such schemes which is money (just like the closure of Bank Junction in the City of London which is generating enormous sums in fines). In Croydon, some 2,000 fines were issued in six months, which is likely to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds per year of additional income to the council.

The school run and the congestion it causes is of major concern to many people but this writer does not support road closures of this nature. They just obstruct and corrupt the road network.

In Croydon local activist Peter Morgan claims the council have acted illegally by not taking notice of objections and failing to meet their obligations under the Traffic Management Act. He is asking the Secretary of State to block the councils move.

The Alliance of British Drivers opposes road closure schemes of all kinds on the grounds that they create major inconvenience for many people, rarely provide any claimed benefits and particularly so when they are used as money making schemes by councils to exploit unwary motorists.

But if you have other solutions to the congestion caused by school run drivers, that are more practical and less unreasonable, then please let us know.

Roger Lawson

Press Release: Targeting Cars to Solve ‘Pollution Problems’ Was Never the Answer

The ABD welcomes so called ‘weakening’ of the government’s stance against petrol and diesel engines (1).  Despite much media hype the vast majority of petrol and diesel cars that do significant mileages are clean modern vehicles. Car emissions are a tiny and fast diminishing part of overall pollution which comes from many sources in modern life including many that originate in our modern insulated homes.

Much of the recent hype has resulted from hysterical claims of ‘multiple premature deaths’ from pollution.  The clue is in the word ‘premature’ and actual number of hours or days that a life is supposedly shortened by are never stated.  The truth is that if we stopped all industry, all heating, all trade and all transport there would still be pollution from natural sources.  We may live a few extra hours from the cleaner air but would die from cold and malnutrition far earlier instead.  We need to remind ourselves that whilst there may be minimal negative trade-offs from modern living, the benefits outweigh these many fold. Some common sense needs to return to the table.

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/roads-update-the-zero-emission-road-transport-strategy