Fuel consumption down but scale of diesel use remains a worry for health

Cab speeds past-2The amount of fuel consumed by vehicles on the roads of London has fallen by nearly a third over the past 10 years.

The biggest reduction has been in personal travel, which includes cars, motorbikes and buses. Fuel usage in these types of transport is down by 31%.  The reduction for freight transport, which includes vans and lorries, is down by 22%. Personal travel accounts for 2½ times the fuel consumed by freight.

As previously reported by Urbs, traffic volumes have gone down by about 7% since 2004 despite a rising population. But the reduction in fuel consumption can also be attributed to better fuel economy for vehicles.

The estimates are based upon data modelling by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and it shows that fuel consumption, like car ownership, is highest in the outer boroughs, particularly those north of the river, such as Enfield, Barnet and Havering. The highest consumption level is in Hillingdon.

Fuel consumption

The estimates look at where fuel is consumed rather than where it was bought so areas with large arterial roads are likely to have higher consumption levels – the M4 running out through Hillingdon or the M1 in Barnet, for example.

The reduction in consumption is good news environmentally but the data reveals a statistic which is having an impact on the city’s air quality – the shift from petrol to diesel cars. In 2004 consumption of diesel was about 20% of the consumption level for petrol. By 2013 it was 67%.

Diesel engines were promoted by the government as they produce lower levels of emissions that contribute to climate change, but they produce higher levels of N02.  Recent research by Kings College found that NO2 is having a far more harmful impact on health than had been previously recognised and responsible for nearly 6,000 deaths a year.

Source data

See also

London leads the way in declining car use but the East is bucking the trend

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health

Emission targets at risk as growing population hits greener city plan

 

Don’t just blame drivers for harmful NO2 pollution

Bishopsgate-2Central London has a particular problem with potentially deadly air pollution caused by nitrogen dioxide, but it is not all the fault of drivers with diesel cars. Buses and buildings are also playing a significant part.

Transport is the largest single factor in the production of harmful NO2 and the finger is often pointed at cars with diesel engines. These type of vehicles make up 50% of all new sales in the UK and the switch away from petrol, encouraged by the Government, has had some benefit for other types of emissions.

But data analysis by the think tank Policy Exchange on the sources of NO2 in London shows that diesel cars are only part of the story and the figures for Central London are different to that for Greater London as a whole.

Nearly every borough is failing to meet the legal limit for levels of NO2. Long term exposure to high levels can lead to respiratory disease and a recent study by Kings College London, reported by Urbs, estimated that it may be killing 5,800 people a year.

Transport is responsible for 45% of NO2 emission across Greater London. Diesel vehicles including cars, taxis, buses and HGVs account for most of this, with 11% attriibuted to diesel cars, the same as HGVs.

NO2 Greater London

 

The figures for Central London reveal a similar rate of NO2 from transport, but the nature of traffic in the centre of the city means that busess account for 3 times the amount of NO2 produced by diesel cars.

NO2 Central London

The other significantly different factor in Central London is the NO2 emission rate from non-domestic burning of gas, ie powering the offices, shops and businesses. This accounts for a third of NO2 emissions in Central London compared to 8% for Greater London.

The recent Volkswagen emission test scandal has led to renewed concern about the real level of diesel car pollution. But this data shows that while cleaner cars are needed the capital also needs a greener bus service and more energy efficient buidlings to tackle the problem of NO2 more widely.

Up in the Air report, Policy Exchange

See also

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health

Tests suggest NO2 pollution levels may be higher at child height

Tests suggest NO2 pollution levels may be higher at child height

Pollution cars 2Levels of damaging nitrogen dioxide may be higher than official readings show and may be much at much higher levels at child or buggy height, according to a cycling campaign group.

HFcyclists, a campaign group based in Hammersmith and Fulham decided to take their own NO2 readings around the Hammersmith gyratory system and Shepherd’s Bush Green. With the support of the environmental legal group ClientEarth they set up tubes to monitor NO2, which are produced particularly by diesel engines.

Official readings are taken at a height of 3 metres. They placed tubes at different heights at 2 locations. The campaign group found that readings were significantly higher closer to the ground – up to 30% higher at 0.5 metres, the height of a child in a buggy and 25% at 0.8 metres, the height of a pram or a small toddler

NO2graphic-2

Graphic: HFcyclists/ClientEarth

All their readings were in excess of the EU regulatory limit. As reported by Urbs, all but 2 London boroughs are in breach of legal limits and a recent study by Kings College said that NO2 was responsible for 9,500 deaths a year. The same study found that the number NO2 related deaths in Hammersmith and Fulham was one of the lowest in the city.

HFcyclists acknowledge that their modest test over a two-month period earlier this year should be seen as no more than indicative and the proximity of the Hammersmith flyover may have affected the height distribution of NO2. They say that they will continue to monitor to obtain more robust data. But the results raise further concern about the effects of nitrogen dioxide levels in London, particularly for children.

Source data

See also

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health

Emission targets at risk as growing population hits greener city plan