DRIVERS OF highly polluting cars should be given a £1,000 voucher to help them to switch to cleaner cars, bicycles or public transport for their commute, a report has recommended.
The think tank ResPublica also proposed that councils close some city centre car parks and convert the land into shops or public gardens to make it harder for drivers to find a parking space, and so reduce air pollution, which contributes to 40,000 deaths a year.
It says that “pollution reduction vouchers” could be funded by charges on polluting cars that enter city centres.
Pre-2006 petrol and diesel cars will pay a £10 “toxicity charge” to enter central London from October. Several other cities, including Birmingham, are considering similar charges.
The report also suggests that £10 be added to the cost of first registering a vehicle to help to fund the scheme.
The vouchers would be available only to low earners who lived in cities and owned a highly polluting car, the think tank said. This group will be among the hardest hit by charges to enter city centres because they are likely to own the oldest vehicles.
The vouchers could be used to buy a low-emission car or to convert the recipient’s car to run on liquefied petroleum gas, which produces less nitrogen dioxide, one of the most toxic air pollutants. Alternatively, the vouchers could be put towards the cost of a bicycle or a public transport season ticket.
The government is considering a wide range of ideas for reducing air pollution. It is due to publish an air quality plan in April, after its previous one was ruled inadequate by the High Court.
Tom Follett, the report’s author, said that removing car parks would be unpopular with drivers but would improve air quality. It would be “politically possible if part of a coherent package to provide public transport as a replacement”, he said.
Phillip Blond, director of ResPublica, said: “We must be careful that any levies on drivers entering urban areas are not simply a congestion charge but are used instead to dramatically improve air quality.”
James Thornton, chief executive of the campaign group ClientEarth, which won the High Court ruling against the government’s air quality plan, said: “The government needs to look at all measures to meet legal limits of air pollution in the shortest time possible so they should study this important report carefully. It shows that we need a comprehensive approach if we are to stop breathing toxic and illegal air.”
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has called on the government to introduce a scrappage scheme under which drivers of the most polluting cars and vans would receive up to £3,500 towards a cleaner vehicle.
Ben Webster, Environment Editor
This article first appeared in The Times