London is a very dirty city. The quality of the air that Londoners breathe is just as dirty as it was when the great smogs on the 1950s killed so many people, but the London air does not now reveal itself in visible smogs. Instead the nitrous oxides and particulates that fill the air are relatively invisible. It is inevitable that when you jam eight million people in a relatively small space those people will leave a dirty environmental footprint. The people need to travel to and from work, they need to see their friends and relations and they need to do all the other things that living requires and those things cause all kinds of pollution. Traffic in London creates many different problems but the most serious is not the delays or congestion but the poor air quality that ends up with Londoners filtering the air each time they breath in and breath out. Anything that can be done to reduce the air pollution should be done. Some years ago London created a congestion charge zone, which requires payment every day a vehicle enters it. Some vehicles are exempt from charges, but the exemptions are small and the congestion zone was designed to reduce car traffic in central London. It has failed in this design but it has raised a lot of money for the government to spend. The latest idea is to try to prevent the needless emissions of pollutants which vehicles throw out when they are idling. Traffic wardens will be told to approach drivers who are letting their vehicles idle and tell them to turn off the engine until they are ready to travel. If the driver fails to do this they will be fined £20. We have to see whether this initiative actually does anything to improve air quality. It seems to me that most of the pollution from idling vehicles comes not from cars but from buses, coaches, taxis and large utility vehicles. Certainly, many of these sources could be prevented from idling unnecessarily, especially the buses and taxis, without introducing new fines, so the suspicion must be that this will become as important a revenue raising exercise as the congestion zone has become, and about as insignificant as the congestion zone in terms of pollution prevention. The real issue is behaviour. It is not hard to turn off the ignition of a vehicle and then turn it on again a few minutes later, and that is how drivers should behave, but sadly people do not always behave how they should.
Posted on March 23, 2015 by Robert Kyriakides