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LEZ - Low Emission Zone

Low Emission Zone or the London No Go Zone

It seems that when new legislation is introduced it is for all the best of intentions. However there always appears to be a major flaw in its implementation that makes it totally ridiculous. For me the London LEZ or Low Emission Zone is just one policy that drives me mad and is making London a ‘No Go Zone’ for small businesses. It is also making London exclusive to bigger companies who can then charge a premium price for their services without the fear of smaller businesses being able to compete.

I understand the ecological reasoning for introducing the Low Emission Zone by improving traffic pollution by lowering carbon emissions within central London. However, I don’t think much thought has gone in to the policy and the long term aim to save the environment.

First of all let’s look at the Low Emission Zone and exactly what it is. For most of us, myself included, I didn’t know what it was all about until it was too late and I received a hefty fine through the post. Naively for me it was a nice green sign when you entered inside the M25 as you travelled into London. Okay, I knew it was to restrict carbon emissions but I thought it only applied to the big 40 tonne lorries that were polluting our city. WRONG!

Paraphrasing from the Transport for London website; The Low Emission Zone was introduced in 2008 to encourage the most polluting heavy diesel vehicles driving in the capital to become cleaner. What they mean is that they are forcing you to buy a newer model or at very least buy an expensive catalytic convertor that is probably worth more than your old vehicle. Going back to the bit about ‘the most polluting heavy diesel vehicles’ surely they mean the 40 ton Lorries and not my little 5 ton van, right? WRONG AGAIN. The legislation keeps changing and has moved from big lorries, to 7.5 tonners, then 5 ton vans and so it continues.

This is something that has hugely affected small businesses. We have stopped taking work within the M25 region, although we have slipped up on a few occasions as it is sometimes unavoidable.

So let’s look at the options and the knock on affect that they have.

1. Fit an approved filter and get it certified. My van is in good condition, although nearly ten years old. I have had everything very well maintained and each year it passes the very strict HGV testing including the pollutant test without fail. The filter I require would cost me nearly £3,000 to be fitted and the van is only worth half of that, so it makes no sense. Besides what’s to say that I get it fitted and then they change the legislation again? For me that would be a waste of money and energy and is totally false economy.

2. Pay the daily charge. For my van, yes van! It’s £200 per day...and yes you may have noticed that it is per day and not 24 hours. I once made an argument that I simply had to drop inside the M25 at 11.55pm and I would be back out at 00.05am ten minutes later. “Sorry sir that will be £400!!!!” was the reply that I got. So even if I get offered a ten minute job for £400 I may as well turn it down. Have I gone mad? And that’s basically what I have to do, unless I add nearly £500 to our usual price to go into London it simply isn’t worth the hassle. Now the knock on affect of this is that it is falsely inflating London prices. Furthermore what some people are doing is down-plating their vehicles to 3.5 tonnes and running the risk of being overweight.

3. One solution is to hire a van. Newer vehicles meet the newer engine requirements although it‘s not that easy to hire a commercial vehicle. So what do you do? For £60 to £70 you can hire a 3.5 ton long wheel based van. Okay you run the risk of being overweight but it’s a huge saving. Alternatively, run two vans. Yes, I have had to do this. Surely my old van puts out fewer emissions than two new vans and uses less fuel!!!!

4. Buy a new vehicle. Ultimately most people will end up considering this option but again let’s look at the consequences. My van is getting old and I suppose I do need to replace it at some point although it does function perfectly well and passes its test every year. To replace like for like it will cost me £27,000 for a like for like vehicle and not improve and do the same job I’m doing now. To move up a notch I’ll need to spend £43,000. Ouch! Whichever option I go for at some point I am going to have to increase my prices to cover these overheads. Ultimately, these costs are again being passed on to the poor consumer. But before you go out and buy a new vehicle read on......

In the end I have decided to buy a new vehicle. I didn’t really have any money behind me so scrimped and scraped trying to raise enough for the deposit. I nearly put a down payment on my ultimate dream van a Mercedes Vario. For some reason things got delayed and I didn’t go through with it. Thank goodness I didn’t!

From 3rd January 2012 the standards are changing yet again. You now need a Euro IV engine and more vehicles than ever will be affected. It doesn’t matter if you use your vehicle for private or commercial reasons it will still need to meet the new standards.

What is further frustrating is that there isn’t a sliding scale for the size of vehicle. You will still need to pay £200 per day whether you have a van or an articulated lorry. London is now officially a No Go Zone for small businesses.
Driving into London is now exclusive to the companies that can afford to do it. As such they can and will start to charge over and above the usual rate; after all it will take out the competitive side to business. I have to charge £500 extra to take on any job within the M25 to cover charges etc. Soon the bigger companies will charge extra because they know the smaller ones can’t take on the work.

In the end, who wins?