Black cabs in London

Can a black cab go green?

2014 could be heading in the right direction for London’s air quality with announcements for two new cleaner options for black cabs in the last few weeks. Nissan recently unveiled their NV200 taxi with a 1.6 litre petrol-engine which will be far cleaner than the average diesel taxi currently operating in the capital, and Ecotive’s Range-Extended Electric Metrocab taxi will be trialled on the streets of London in January.

Black cabs are seen by many to be emblematic of London but their diesel engines are catastrophic for the capital’s air quality. Diesel vehicles have been favoured by Government policies because they have slightly lower carbon emissions than their petrol counterparts. However, they tend to emit at least twice the amount of nitrogen dioxide and 10 to 20 times more particulate matter, which are harmful air pollutants. In central London black cabs are responsible for 25% of PM10 (particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 microns) exhaust emissions. The World Health Organisation has declared that diesel exhausts are definitely a cause of cancer and other studies have shown how it can cause heart attacks amongst other serious health conditions.

So how much could these new taxis actually contribute to cleaning up the air in London? Nissan’s NV200 may only meet the Euro 5 standard for emissions (the minimum requirement set out in the Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy for all new licensed taxis) but more significantly it provides a petrol-alternative to the usual diesel cabs thereby going some way to reducing its impact on Londoners’ air quality and their health. Euro standards are far more stringent for petrol vehicles than diesel and also deliver better results in real world driving conditions.

This is undoubtedly a good step forward but should we really be aiming for zero emissions? Ecotive’s Metrocab is a hybrid with “zero-emissions capability” but we may have to wait until the trials are over to see what this means in practice for local air pollution. Nissan has, however, announced its ambitions to be the first manufacturer to roll out a completely electric taxi in 2015.

We need government policy to create the right incentives for low emission vehicles. The Healthy Air Campaign is calling for serious action to tackle diesel exhaust in towns and cities across the UK. We need to ban unfiltered diesel vehicles from towns and cities and reverse incentives for diesel in order to protect people and the natural environment from the harmful effects of air pollution.

photo by: S∆M.I.∆M

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