Rudolf Diesel has a lot to answer for. The compression engine he invented has become the great workhorse of heavy duty vehicles like the buses, taxis and vans which fill our streets. But the nasty side effect of diesel fuel is fine particulate exhaust emissions that are creating a major health crisis. Tiny particles get deep into the lungs, causing thousands of premature deaths and a big increase in ill health.
The biggest culprit in central London, where the health problems are most acute? Yes, buses, taxis and commercial vans – all run, regulated or approved by the Mayor of London.
And the single most effective solution? To switch to electricity as a fuel source and cut London’s appalling air pollution, dramatically reduce premature deaths and ill health, and – due to greater energy efficiency – help meet our climate change targets too.
That’s why today I am launching the Big Switch at City Hall with Caroline Pidgeon AM and the energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne MP. This ambitious programme will convert high mileage buses, taxis and light goods vehicles to electric power by 2020.
With electric vehicles emitting no tail pipe exhaust pollution, turning London’s buses, taxis and commercial LGV fleets electric will reduce the air pollution suffered by Londoners by an estimated 25% – and even more in central London, with a 65% cut in dangerous nitrogen dioxide emissions in Oxford Street.
Wider benefits include a reduction in CO2 emissions of over 300,000 tonnes, far quieter streets and cheaper running costs, helping make public transport more affordable.
Can it be done?
At the heart of our plan is the simple fact that electricity is about one fifth the cost per mile compared to conventional fuels. The cost of battery technology is coming down rapidly, as production increases. Based on typical mileage, we calculate:
- Over three years a taxi driver will be £8,000 better off.
- Fuel savings for buses give a payback time of eight years.
- An LGV operator will be £3,000 better off over three years in running costs.
The hardest part is converting the 8,500 strong bus fleet. Our research shows Transport for London can be saving bus fuel costs of nearly £150m a year by 2020. Even with a big investment in charging points, our whole scheme goes cash positive in 2023.
The sad fact is the Mayor is not showing ambition, preferring short-term hybrid solutions and vanity projects. London is falling far behind best practice around the world. Seoul has plans for half its public transport vehicles to be electric by 2020. In the UK, Durham already has fully electric buses on their roads; in London not a single one.
It is time London took the lead to promote technology that makes long term sense. Reduced air pollution, quieter streets, help for climate change and more affordable public transport – surely that’s an opportunity worth seizing.
And with big savings on running costs and new electric taxis coming onto the market, even the famed London cabbie can be persuaded to switch support from Rudolf Diesel to the Liberal Democrats.