Big opportunities or big hits to pockets?

By Michael Morrison

This time last year we were getting excited about the Department for Transport’s newly announced van CO2 database, which comparatively named and shamed tradesmen’s workhorses in terms of fuel consumption efficiency.

The good news was that Modec, the Coventry-based electric vehicle manufacturer, came up top trumps and looked set to lure the white van man away from their dependency on diesel (the worst offender). The bad news however came in March 2011, when Modec went under and the administrators were called in to pick over the scraps.

Fast-forward six months though and the commercial vehicle landscape is facing a new challenge, this time in the shape of London. Transport for London are looking set to strongly reinforce their 2007 promise that, come 3 January 2012, large commercial vehicles will have to prove their green credentials if they want to operate in the city centre. In fact, the government body are insisting that owners get their vehicles tested at a TFL-approved VOSA MOT centre to see if a specialist (and rather expensive) particle filter needs to be fitted.

What are the implications? Well, any large vans, campers and minibuses first registered before January 2002 (and mobile homes registered before 2006) will have to embrace this modification if they want to enter London’s Low Emissions Zone (essentially all of Greater London); or face paying £100 – £200 for each day they drive in the capital.

 Come festival season it’s no rare sight to see an old Volkswagen relic moored on the roadside whilst the AA try to inject it with one last kick – just enough to get to Glastonbury usually – but soon many London-dwelling campervan owners could well be forced to abandon or sell their beloved vehicles as the upgrade cost just isn’t worth it.

The TFL looks unlikely to even allow an MOT-style extension so owners can drive to the garage for the upgrade. The message is clear: if you want to drive in London, get your inefficient vehicle upgraded or prepare to pay the charge.

With the particle filters expected to average around £1,500 – £2,000 per vehicle, many owners will have to face the reality that perhaps their ancient camper just isn’t worth saving, but what about businesses? Tens of thousands of fleet vehicles pass through London everyday (and indeed the city would arguably be a bigger mess without them) so it will be interesting to see how they will be affected.

TFL hasn’t announced any financial solutions yet (like the interest-free low carbon transport loan to help Scottish organisations reduce their carbon footprint), so unfortunately it looks like this much-needed change will hit companies just where they need it least at the present.

Interestingly though, a solution could be found in the roads themselves. We’ve already mentioned gyms that can power themselves through kinetic energy, but now roads can do the same.

In a move to hopefully diminish the annoyance caused by every driver’s pet hate, ‘green’ speed bumps are now being introduced to Britain’s roads. More streamlined than conventional sleeping policemen, these subtle ramps push down on a series of panels when a car goes over them, in turn setting a cog in motion and producing up to £3.60 worth of energy an hour apparently – enough to power a mile of street lights and traffic lights. Combine this sort of necessity-driven innovation with the recent trend in renting out driveways and garages to commuters and who knows; maybe 2012 will be the year of change on Britain’s roads after all?