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Going ultra-low in London

•  Raft of research presents vision of transport future
•  Work underway to boost charging infrastructure
•  London leads - but can others follow?

Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (ULEVs) are set to take off in London – and Energy Saving Trust research is having a significant impact on decision-makers looking to bring about the change. 

Transport for London (TfL) has published a raft of research covering everything from projections for ULEVs in the capital, to public and business views on this growing vehicle market. It’s all with a view to getting to grips with the key issues of climate change and poor air quality. 

The Trust’s work focused on charging infrastructure for taxis, private hire and commercial vehicles. 

Low-emissions taxis can make big impact

The research looking at taxis was to assess charging needs in light of the fact that newly-licensed London taxis need to be zero-emissions capable from 2018. This will be a key part of cleaning up London’s air, as taxis are responsible for 19 per cent of the city’s particulate matter and 18 per cent of NOx emissions – harmful air pollutants. 

Rapid chargepoints are needed to accommodate the working patterns of the taxi business, and the study concluded that around 90 of these chargers in specifically-mapped locations would support 1,400 zero emission capable taxis. 

It calls for plug-in taxis to be rapid-charge capable, and for drivers of extended range and hybrid vehicles to use rapid-charging rather than petrol when batteries are depleted. It also makes an important infrastructure note: the electricity supply needs to be up to the job if a network of rapid-chargers is to be feasible. 

Plugging in private hire

There are 86,000 private hire vehicles on London’s roads – and Energy Saving Trust analysed route data from 1,748 of them, as well as carrying out interviews with operators as part of a comprehensive study.

In this case, it was concluded that 140 rapid chargers at 78 locations would be needed to meet demand by 2020, while taxis, car clubs and other commercial operators could also use the facilities, making them more financially viable. 

Speaking with companies such as Uber and Addison Lee found that, in general, electric vehicles (EVs) are viewed positively and private hire working practices can complement charging, but concerns remain about the infrastructure in place to do it. 

London taxis and buses in traffic

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A van-tastic charging network?

The commercial vehicles study stresses the advantages of targeting operators of light goods vehicles for ULEV uptake, highlighting that diesel models of such vehicles are responsible for 13 per cent of NOx emissions and 15 per cent of particulate matter, respectively. 

A total of 26 fleets from companies as diverse as British Gas and Iceland took part in a study looking at the routes their vehicles are making, in order to present examples of routes where plug-in vehicles would make sense, the potential cost and CO2 savings, and where chargepoints would be best placed within the M25.  

The results were significant. Firstly, the analysis showed that operating plug-in vehicles would make business sense for 20 of the 26 fleets in the study. Installing 85 rapid chargepoints at locations within the M25 would support the acquisition of over 1,900 of these vehicles.

Capital progress underway

Work is already being undertaken to considerably improve London’s charging facilities. the Go Ultra Low City Scheme is seeing TfL and the London boroughs invest in 1,150 on-street residential chargepoints in London for ULEV drivers without access to off-street parking.  

Ian Featherstone, Knowledge Manager, Energy Saving TrustFleet Advice Manager Ian Featherstone (pictured) said: “Action is already being taken on the back of the findings, and overall the picture is very positive. TfL are focusing on the areas that they hold licensing and control over: buses, taxis and private hire. 

“This is very sensible, as aside being markets that can be more easily steered towards electric vehicles; these are also the vehicles that mix with people at transport hubs. They drive down Oxford Street and other thoroughfares where there is much pedestrian traffic and pick up and drop off at stations.”

Getting the incentives right 

Amongst the wealth of other learnings and statistics from the body of published research are some projections of the expected numbers of EVs on London’s roads over the coming years. A conservative estimate suggests there could be 40,000 EVs on London’s roads by 2020 and 150,000 by 2025, while with more policies and incentives, a higher projection of 70,000 and 250,000 is mooted. 

There are likely to be more incentives rolled out in coming years – with higher parking charges for diesel vehicles just one idea that looks likely to take off. Westminster City Council is already trialling the approach, while parking company CitiPark is working along the same lines, starting with a car park in Fitzrovia. 

From London, to beyond?

The findings of the various reports are likely to resonate outside of London – especially where there is funding in place through programmes like the Go Ultra Low City Scheme. However, Ian does acknowledge that the capital has some significant advantages over other towns and cities. 

"What TfL are doing is likely to move the dial forward considerably. London does have a lot in its favour, with the congestion charge already in place and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) planned for 2019, providing strong financial levers for people to take action. No other cities have yet reached this stage and will no doubt be interested to see the impact of the measures being taken." Ian Featherstone, Fleet Advice Manager, Energy Saving Trust

This blog is just a snapshot of the research, and each part shouldn’t be viewed in isolation but as a package of knowledge to help guide London’s transport future. To get more into the detail, visit TfL

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, or tweet us directly @EnergySvgTrust.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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