Local authorities have been urged to take the lead and be "ambitious" to help stimulate the uptake of low-emission vehicles and refuelling infrastructure in the UK.

The second Low-Emission Cities Workshop took place in Sheffield this week, organised by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LCVP).

It saw speakers tackling the topic of how to mitigate the impact on air quality and reduce carbon emissions from road transport.

Andy Eastlake, MD at the LCVP, spoke of his organisation’s role in bringing together stakeholders to develop policy for low-carbon vehicles, which will enable more confident buying choices for individual and fleet users.

He said that in order for wide-scale uptake of lower-emission technology to take place, vehicles must be fit for the job they are needed for. “We cannot compromise mobility just to get lower carbon. This is an important message," he said.

Many alternative fuels are now available, which can be used effectively in different operations. “But it can be guaranteed that there isn't one solution that will fix all our problems in the next 10 years,” he said.

As well as the emergence of plug-in vehicles, range-extended technology and gas power for vehicle fleets, Eastlake urged fleet buyers not to write-off the merits of the latest generation of internal combustion engines, which can be very clean and an efficient way of travelling long distances.

Retrofit technology for the existing vehicle parc also offered significant opportunities to lower carbon emissions and improve air quality, he added.

What does 'low-emission' look like?

LCVP is working on a number of initiatives to help define what a low-emission vehicle should look like for different sectors. “One of the challenges is that there are a number of differing definitions of a low-emission vehicle,” he explained.

Applying consistency to defining low-emission vehicle standards in a city was vital, so as not to confuse vehicle operators wanting to drive in different regions.

“My plea to local authorities is don't try to create a new standard, for example a Sheffield taxi, or a Leeds bus. Let's try and use a standardised approach for the UK as a minimum. A consistent approach is needed,"Eastlake added.

He encouraged local authorities to be confident and get these cleaner vehicles in operation on their fleets, whichever new technology they plump for. "You're not going down a blind alley by picking one of the alternative fuels already available. They won't disappear in three years' time.”

While there were many barriers for local authorities and vehicle operators to making the switch to an alternative fuel or powertrain, he urged cities to overcome these challenges and try to be ambitious with driving through change. “Cities need to ask themselves ‘how can I be more ambitious?’”

“And it is happening,” Eastlake added, as there is a huge uptake in the switch to plug-in cars, however vans remain a challenge and a frustration, as they are the fastest growing category of vehicle in terms of CO2 impact.

Lack of operator demand and lack of available product both need addressing to see wider uptake of cleaner van technology. “This to me is one of the key areas where we need to stimulate both the supply and demand side. It's a market that needs a bit of tweaking and one to focus on,” he suggested.

On the HGV side, one of the biggest challenges for operators has been how to measure any savings made from using new technology.

LCVP is therefore working on a new testing process for the truck sector to provide a standardised way to assess carbon and air quality impact of their HGVs, including the development of a standard for retrofit technology. It will be holding a workshop on 30 November to discuss the process.

It is also working with the DfT to test the real-life emissions performance of gas-powered trucks.

You can view Eastlake's full presentation online.