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How London was able to reduce its nitrogen oxide pollution

Fresh or at least halfway healthy city air is not a matter of course. Despite environmental zones and isolated driving bans for older diesels, fine dust and particularly toxic nitrogen oxides pollute the air we breathe. After all, the limit value for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was changed in 2020 Information from the Federal Environment Agency only exceeded at three to four percent of the traffic-related measuring stations. In 2019, it had been 21 percent before. In Europe, the British capital London in particular shows how cleaner city air can be achieved through strict rules for road traffic.

For the past three weeks, millions of Londoners have been able to enjoy a significantly expanded experience “Ultra Low Emission Zone” (ULEZ). The basis is the successful course of a ULEZ pilot project for the inner city areas between February 2017 and February 2020. During this period, nitrogen oxide pollution (NO2) fell by 44 percent. An efficient step towards complying with the NO2 limit values ​​of 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

This was not made possible by a rigid driving ban for vehicles with particularly poor exhaust emissions. Rather, the City of London controls the health-endangering city traffic through high emissions charges. Drivers of diesel vehicles under the Euro 6 emissions standard and gasoline cars under Euro 4 have to pay £ 12.5 per day, the corresponding buses and trucks even £ 100. If this rule applies around the clock, there is also a congestion charge of 15 pounds during the day. All in all, a city toll of the equivalent of just under 30 euros.

This efficient ULEZ system has now expanded London from the central city center to a drastically enlarged area within a ring road belt in which around 3.8 million people live. Around one million vehicles move in this new ULEZ zone every day. Of these, an estimated 87 percent meet the strict emissions requirements, but almost 140,000 older and dirtier vehicles now have to avoid the area or pay the emissions fee. According to Vice Mayor Shirley Rodrigues, this is the largest environmental zone of its kind in the world and a quick and efficient measure to keep the city air clean.

More from MIT Technology Review

In Germany, too, a comparable city toll is repeatedly discussed widely and very controversially. According to estimates by traffic planners, this could reduce traffic by more than a fifth, especially in large cities like Munich. At this year’s IAA in Munich, Carl Eckhardt, Head of the BMW Urban Mobility Competence Center, told dpa that a city toll was better than the current situation and better than rigid bans. In addition, the toll obligation could not be monitored with cameras on the streets, as in London, but more elegantly with cell phone and cellular data.

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