27 September 2022

Sustainability at Yunex Traffic: Clean Air Zones

How can Clean Air Zones improve air quality in cities? An interview with Wilke Reints.

Poor air pollutes our health and has a negative impact on the quality of life in our cities. Many cities are therefore working on solutions to improve air quality. One of these is Clean Air Zones (CAZ), which reduce traffic-related emissions in cities. We spoke to Wilke Reints, Managing Director Yunex Traffic UK about how the solution is improving air quality in our cities. We talked to our UK Managing Director, Wilke Reints (WR), about how clean air zones are driving improvements in air quality in our cities.

We hear a lot about poor air quality; how big an issue is it?

It’s a major issue and one that national, regional and local authorities take extremely seriously, with air pollution posing a major threat to health and the global climate. The World Health Organisation reports that poor air quality is responsible for the premature death of an estimated seven million people worldwide every year, with their data also showing that 99% of the global population breathes air that contains levels of pollutants which exceeds its guideline limits.

In the UK, the Government states that “the major threat to clean air is now posed by traffic emissions. Petrol and diesel engine motor vehicles are one of the major sources of air pollution, with the main pollutants including particulate matter, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.”

I must say that I am surprised, that measures introduced to help improve air quality can provoke a negative reaction.

In my view, it’s quite simple: older and higher polluting vehicles are poisoning the air we breathe, and so if we want to breathe clean air now, then we have to take measures to halt and reverse declining air quality. So, I am a strong advocate of clean air solutions and feel frustrated that more cities and even some national governments aren’t acting as positively as they should, although it’s good to see that the UK continues to introduce measures that are clearly having a positive impact.

Your question though is well phrased. We do hear and read a great deal about poor air quality, but perhaps now it’s time that those words resulted in more positive action. 

Is air quality going to continue to get worse?

No, not necessarily, and we certainly should not accept that further deteriorations in air quality are a foregone conclusion. As a leading supplier of intelligent traffic systems, Yunex Traffic is playing a key role in supporting local, regional and national transport authorities to address the issue and help arrest and reverse the decline of air quality.

One of the most targeted tools we work with authorities to deploy is our Clean Air Zone (CAZ) solution, which is proven to significantly reduce the volume of nitrogen oxides and particulates in the air.

Can you tell us a little more about the Clean Air Zone systems?

Targeted and effective, Clean Air Zones are designed to drive behavioural change, discouraging the use of older, higher-polluting vehicles in towns and cities. Each CAZ solution is tailored to meet the needs of each individual town or city, with the size of the zone, the classes of vehicles included, and the charging rates being the key variables.

The use of technology and enforcement solutions are simply aids to accelerate the changes that are required to achieve air quality improvements. Well-designed solutions help ease congestion, improve air quality, maintain road safety, and provide critical data for effective city developments. The schemes also gather data-rich information from the on-street assets, enabling cities to better plan, manage and evolve to meet their changing needs and goals.

Yunex Traffic Sicore II ANPR (Automatic number plate recognition) cameras are at the core of schemes that are already operational, including London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone and CAZ schemes in Birmingham and Portsmouth. Newcastle and Sheffield City Councils are also set to operate CAZ schemes, with the future of Manchester’s CAZ programme still to be determined.

Actually though, it’s not a question of who delivers these systems, the most important thing is that effective and robust measures are introduced to ensure that the air we breathe in our towns and cities is clean.

Do CAZ schemes operate in isolation, or can they be supported by other measures to help improve air quality?

When cities develop their Clean Air Plans, they will include many complementary measures to achieve a sustainable improvement in air quality, with the aim being that ultimately it will be possible for the enforcement system to be turned off.

Even though in the UK sales of new petrol- and diesel-powered cars will be banned from 2030, and electric vehicle ownership continues to grow rapidly, there is still a need for CAZ schemes to accelerate behavioural change and support other incentives for fleet owners to switch to electric vehicles.

Should the point be reached where enforcement of the zone is no longer required, then the infrastructure can be re-purposed, perhaps to support any future road tolling initiatives in cities. Measures that will outlast the CAZ could include changes to traffic signals, junction improvements, the introduction of cycle routes, EV charging and grants to encourage changes of vehicle fleets – all of which will deliver an immediate and ongoing improvement to air quality.

And are Clean Air Zones working?

Simple answer is yes. Results show that CAZ schemes deliver both immediate and sustained results. In London, roadside nitrogen dioxide levels in the expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) have dropped by 43% since 2017. The long-term benefits of low emission and clean air schemes are helping cities become cleaner, healthier and less congested.

As a result, transport authorities are increasingly realising the benefits that unattended CAZ systems can deliver; looking to engage with solution providers at the early stages of scheme design and development to achieve their short-, medium- and long-term goals, and ultimately to deliver a more efficient transport network, improve the quality of air and so the overall health and wellbeing of those who live, work, study and travel in their towns and cities.