The RHA is calling for the government to review its Clean Air Zones (CAZ) policy in the light of emerging evidence that a significant drop in car journeys during the COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in major improvements in air quality.

Data collected by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science shows marked reductions in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and in particulate matter (PM2.5) since the government ordered a lock down to help slow the spread of the virus.

Car journeys are estimated to have fallen by over 80% since lockdown.

The findings could prompt councils to set more stringent targets to cut car emissions. At present most CAZ schemes tend to target commercial vehicles rather than private cars.

The RHA’s call for a review follows the government’s decision this week to suspend the implementation of all CAZ schemes until January 2021.

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The move came after local authorities, including Birmingham and Leeds, called for a delay as they struggle with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The RHA argues that DfT’s CAZ strategy needs to take into consideration key societal, environmental and economic factors arising from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic before any schemes are implemeted.

These include:

• The severe financial pressure many hauliers are facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis

• The economic dislocation caused by COVID-19 and the disruption to normal HGV replacement cycles which will make it difficult for hauliers to upgrade to Euro-6 by 2021

• The need to assess emerging reports indicating air quality improvements during the COVID-19 crisis and how the removal of certain modes of transport have impacted on air quality levels

• Indications that the UK workforce may become more “agile” after the crisis, by, for example, increasingly working from home, which may alter travel patterns

The RHA also wants the DfT to extend the implementation of all CAZ schemes to January 2022 to allow hauliers to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Chris Ashley, RHA head of policy for environment and regulatory policy, told “Any review conducted by the government should also take account of the huge strides hauliers undertook prior to the COVID-19 crisis, where £1.9bn was invested by hauliers in the latest, cleanest lorries which the RHA estimates has caused harmful NOx emissions from HGVs to fall by around 60% since 2013.

“We call upon the government to evaluate non-charging options that allow for appropriate phasing in, determined by vehicle life cycles.