Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone: Environmental Solution or Economic Burden?

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As Glasgow joins many other UK cities by introducing the Low Emissions Zone (LEZ), the potential environmental benefits must be weighed against the economic impact.

Glasgow’s Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) is set to begin from the 1st of June 2023. The new enforcement aims to reduce air quality within the city and promote more eco-friendly means of transportation. Any non-compliant vehicles that are within the area can face fines starting from £60, which then double each time the same vehicle is found again within LEZ limits. With the UK having just narrowly avoided an economic recession this year, it this the correct course of action from Glasgow City Council?

The Low Emissions Zone is set to see millions of diesel and petrol cars banned from Glasgow city centre this Summer, with Diesel cars or vans registered before 2015 and petrol cars or vans registered before 2006 all set to be on the chopping board. Unlike other LEZ, in London for example, Glasgow will not offer drivers the chance to “pay-to-enter” the city if needed, people must find alternative ways to commute.

Michael Bergson, owner of Glasgow’s popular restaurant’s Bucks Bar and Thundercat, has expressed how much the zone will affect hospitality businesses within the area and suggests the government put their money into public transportation for the city instead.

“If you are going to do anything that’s going to harm the transport into Glasgow then at least have a plan to offset that by running later trains or incentivise with additional bus services.”

Bucks Bar owner, Michael Bergson, posing in front of the restaurant. Photo courtesy SkyNews Glasgow.

With Scotland’s railways in constant striking action and taxi drivers at risk of losing their jobs within the city because of the zone, commuting into the city via alternative travel is proving to be a challenging task even without the LEZ. Not to mention the rising cost of public transportation, those driving non-compliant older vehicles do so due to low running costs. It is often cheaper to drive into the city centre, pay for parking, and drive home, than it is to pay rising train or bus fares.

“All council vehicles are exempt and that’s presumably because it would be too costly and too many supply chain issues to have them all converted, so the same level of understanding should apply to taxi drivers.” Michael goes on to explain.

Currently, the Scottish government are giving taxi drivers within the city a one-year exemption period to allow them more time to find compliant vehicles. However, taxi drivers must apply for the exemption and provide proof that they do not have sufficient funding to change their vehicle, and that they have applied for relevant funding and are awaiting a response. Drivers must have submitted applications before 31 May 2023 – one day before the LEZ is set to begin.

“For an electric cab there is a 6-month wait at the moment and they cost tens-of-thousands of pounds, so it is going to put a dent in the industry for a long period of time.” Michael states.

Councillor Angus Millar, Glasgow’s Convener for Climate has stated he believes this approach to be ‘equitable’ and has expressed that the city council are doing everything in their power to make the transition for taxi drivers easier.

“We recognise that for some taxis retrofit is not an option or there can be delays to retrofitting work being undertaken. Granting temporary exemptions to give more time to achieve compliance with a vital public health measure is a practical way to support the taxi sector as we move towards enforcement of Glasgow’s LEZ.” Millar stated.

“No public hire taxi should be off the road this June as a result of LEZ, with flexibility up until June 2024 provided to support the transition to compliance.”

Low Emissions Zone signs on the road within the city centre.

Graeme Brownlee, a taxi driver in Glasgow for many years, shared his thoughts with us on the effect the LEZ will have on the taxi business, “I managed to change my taxi in 2019 when I first heard the LEZ was coming. But my colleagues haven’t been so fortunate, they’re going to have to pay upwards of £70,000 for a new hackney cab that complies with the regulations.”

Pollution levels in Glasgow pre-covid were found to be 50% above the legal safe limit, with these numbers dropping during covid, Glasgow City Council have been searching for answers to ensure the cities emission levels do not rise to such harmful numbers again.

Graeme Brownlee expands, “It’s as if they (the government) have gotten this idea for the LEZ and just ran with it without putting the proper planning into place or stopping to consider just how long it will take for everyone within the city centre to comply.”

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