Take-up of low-emission vehicles in towns and cities is steadily increasing year-on-year, but local authorities have a significant part to play in supporting this growth.

This was the message delivered by the Office of Low-Emission Vehicles (OLEV) to delegates attending a Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership workshop in York city yesterday (6 July).

Steve Ives, head of energy systems at OLEV, said the government’s Go Ultra Low City Scheme would be sharing £35m between two to four successful cities bidding for funding in the national competition.

The scheme’s main aim is to see winning cities bring about a step-change in uptake of ULEVs, as well as becoming exemplars demonstrating how a local authority can achieve success.

Gloria Esposito, head of projects at LowCVP, said key drivers for boosting uptake of low-emission vehicles remain to reduce CO2 and NOx/PM emissions from road transport; lessen the reliance on fossil fuels; and to increase economic development through manufacturing and employment opportunities in the automotive sector.


However, several barriers currently exist to preclude widescale uptake of ULEVs in the van sector, such as a lack of available vehicles, particularly those with a higher payload; lack of information about financial benefits and suitability of alternative fuels; and a lack of information sharing between fleet operators.

To date, only 0.2% of new van sales are electric, with the Renault Kangoo the highest seller last year out of nine available van models and one range-extended electric vehicle, said Esposito.

Electric vans are perceived to have higher capital costs, with uncertainty in the total cost of ownership, including battery life and replacement charge. Also a payload penalty, range limitation, resale value and uncertainty in performance remain concerns for fleet operators.

Natural gas/biomethane vans suffer from a lack of refuelling stations and uncertainty in performance and reliability.

Help at hand

To overcome some of these barriers, Cenex’s new low-emission van cost and carbon guide provides much of the information local authorities need to know about the suitability of different types of van for their individual operations, including comparisons of whole-life costs and benefits.

Cenex said the online tool was essential as the van sector was the fastest growing sector of UK road transport, contributing 14% of the industry’s total CO2 emissions from a 95% diesel vehicle fleet.

David Beeton, director at sustainable city think-tank Urban Foresight, looked at some of the ways local authorities could promote a shift in vehicle use at the conference.

These included both financial and non-financial incentives (such as dedicated parking bays), as well as ensuring planning departments come on-board and begin to build-in provision for alternative-fuel infrastructure into new developments or parking plans. For example, delegates learned that in Westminster, 100% of planning permits for new parking spaces specify they must all be EV ready.

Incentives do not have to be focused on rewarding desired behaviour, there could be penalties imposed for those not adopting low-emission vehicles instead.

Leading by example

Procurement was another key driver that local authorities can use to lead by example with uptake of greener fleets.

In Dundee, the council runs the UK’s largest local authority fleet of ULEVS, with 62 units representing more than 25% of its light duty vehicles, while Stockholm city is leading a joint procurement scheme with 335 partners buying 1,250 low-emission vehicles per year.

Promoting recharging infrastructure is also essential for local authorities, added Beeton. For example, in Scotland and the West of England, electricity for charging vehicles is free of charge, while Camden allows public access for a variety of alterative fuel charging points used for its own fleet.

Beeton said collaboration between all departments in a local authority, as well as sharing best practice with other cities would really help stimulate EV take-up.

The creation of a ‘champion’ within each local authority was also a useful tool, he added.