Are zero emission zones fair?

The Dutch Climate Agreement states that 30 to 40 larger cities in 2025 should have medium-sized zero-emission zones for city logistics. That should yield 1 Megaton of CO2. That may affect 40 thousand trucks and more than 250 thousand delivery vans. Even if there are enough affordable electric vehicles on the market in the coming years, is such a generic measure fair?

Most city logistics is done with light commercial vans. Two-thirds of the nearly 1 million vans in the Netherlands are registered in the name of a company with fewer than 10 employees or a private individual. They often drive an older, second-hand and third-hand van that is 10 to 15 years old. Not really good for the air quality.
Are the zero emission zones going to hit these companies unprecedentedly hard? Do they have the financial resources to invest in an electric vehicle? Do they get a contract with a bank or leasing company? In addition, the electric vehicle requires major investments by municipalities in charging infrastructure. Most of those vans are parked on the streets.

What is fair? More than half of CO2 in city logistics comes from heavy trucks. This will also apply to the energy requirements of those trucks and the future charging infrastructure. A debate is needed as to whether we should first make the 40,000 trucks, which run every day in the 30 to 40 larger cities, zero emissions instead of all light commercial vehicles. Which investments will yield the most CO2 savings?

Zero emission zones are not a goal in itself. The bottom line is less CO2 from ‘field to vase’. This requires a sector-by-sector approach to both smarter and cleaner city logistics. From that zero-emission agenda, well-considered choices can be made for measures that we will not regret later.

Municipalities should take vulnerable groups into account in designing their generic zero emission zoning plans. Customization is needed for a cleaner and in the long term a fully electric fleet. Municipalities can learn lessons from e.g. the Amsterdam’s experiences with electric taxis with the proper use of subsidies, privileges at boarding points, the charging infrastructure at the right place, cooperation with the sector and the right timing.
Just locking-off the city is not smart. There is a devilish dilemma between the financial capacity of smaller companies and a level playing field for all companies. What is fair?


Walther Ploos van Amstel.

Professor in Citylogistics – Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

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