Local bus services to have lower exhaust emissions in city centre

A total of 25% of bus journeys per operator in Aberdeen will have to be compliant with lower exhaust emissions in the city centre by the end of the year as part of a City Council long-term strategy to drive down nitrogen dioxide figures.

The council’s City Growth and Resources Committee today (Thursday 6 February) unanimously agreed to the move along with holding public and stakeholder engagement on options for a city centre low emission zone (LEZ).

The report to committee said officers are working with partners to determine the form of a LEZ in Aberdeen to comply with the Scottish Government’s commitment that Scotland’s four principal cities should have a LEZ in place by the end of 2020.

Committee convener and Council Co-Leader, Councillor Douglas Lumsden, said: “The unanimous decision today is to be welcomed as we are committed to reducing emissions across Aberdeen and particularly in the city centre.

“Further work into engagement work looking at options for a low emission zone in the city centre will also bring long-term benefits to our residents and visitors as Aberdeen continues to be an attractive place to live, work and spend leisure time in.”

Some buses used by service companies will already have the lower exhaust emissions and the move will ensure all fleets will be brought up to 25% compliance.

Members on the committee were advised that the current focus of LEZ appraisal work is the City Centre Air Quality Management Area due to a higher number of NO2 exceedances recorded in that area compared to other parts of the city.

The report said in December 2019, an updated air quality model was finalised by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to reflect the impacts of the full opening of the city bypass (AWPR), while consultants SYSTRA is in the final stages of developing a revised city centre traffic model.

The models suggest that, while the AWPR has reduced traffic in the city centre and on key corridors and while the council has plans to significantly reduce city centre traffic further via the City Centre Masterplan, Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan and the Roads Hierarchy, analysis suggested the levels of reduction in the short to medium term are unlikely to be sufficient to bring NO2 emissions within acceptable limits without further interventions.

The report said various high-level scenarios based around improved vehicle standards have been tested to understand their impacts on air quality on key city centre streets within the Air Quality Management Area.

The figures demonstrate that an initial focus on reducing emissions associated with bus movements in the city centre would achieve the quickest improvements in air quality and that working with bus operators to bring more vehicles up to Euro VI standard or better would bring air quality benefits almost immediately.

Hydrogen or electric vehicles would be the best way to achieve this however it is possible to retrofit diesel vehicles with exhaust modifications to bring them up to an acceptable European standard. There is significant funding (approximately £8 million in 2019/20) is available to bus and taxi operators from the Scottish Government to enable this to take place.

Local authorities can ask the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland to attach a Traffic Regulation Condition to a Public Service Vehicle Operator’s licence in order to reduce or limit noise or air pollution. Transport Scotland has stated that if a TRC of this nature was in force by the end of 2020, this will be considered to meet the Scottish Government commitment. Glasgow City Council used the same type of TRC to implement the first LEZ in Scotland in 2018.

The report to committee said engagement with First Aberdeen and Stagecoach took place in January 2020 to understand their likely ability to comply with such a requirement and what the implications may be on services. In general, they wanted to work in partnership with the City Council to improve air quality via TRCs and a LEZ, and continue to work with partners to deliver a more public transport-friendly city and city centre.

The outcomes of the public and stakeholder engagement on options for a city centre LEZ are to be reported back to the city growth committee later this year.