Who shouts the loudest? A study exploring barriers and enablers to implement low emission zones

Low emission zones (LEZ) have proven effective in reducing pollution and are gaining popularity, though they remain controversial. The LEZ is a highly divisive policy. Understanding the factors that facilitate or hinder their implementation is crucial. In the UK, Clean Air Zones (CAZ), a type of LEZ, are being established in several cities.

A recent study aimed to identify key barriers and enablers to implementing a CAZ in real-time as the policy was developed and enacted in Bradford, a large northern city in England. The researchers conducted twenty-five semi-structured interviews with city stakeholders and implementers approximately six months before the launch of a CAZ charging non-compliant taxis, buses, heavy goods vehicles, and vans. Thematic analysis was used to examine the data. Implementers had to work within a strict policy framework.

Key enablers included the flexibility to adapt the framework to local contexts, financial support, and cross-sector collaboration. Emphasizing health benefits helped justify the policy to the public. Key barriers included opposition from local industry, politicians, and communities. Implementing air quality policies involving traffic restrictions remains controversial.

The loudest voices often express opposing views, creating a divisive discourse that shapes public opinion and undermines implementers’ confidence. A systems perspective is needed to understand the socio-political contexts influencing implementation success.

Key lessons learned

For those implementing a LEZ locally:

  • Create a multidisciplinary team to lead the planning and implementation process. Ensure that leads from key functions, including health, planning, transport, legal, human resources, and IT, are included. Research, monitoring, and evaluation should be a core component of this team.
  • From the start, engage with key stakeholder groups, including communities and local businesses. Listen to their needs and adapt policies where feasible. Pay attention to perceived potential unintended or unanticipated consequences for low-income groups. For example, explore mitigations to these potential adverse impacts by providing grants to facilitate upgrading non-compliant vehicles and exemptions.
  • Ensure adequate staffing resources are available at the early stages of policy development to fully consult and engage with communities and businesses.
  • Engage with other areas implementing LEZ to share learning around successes and challenges.
  • When communicating about the LEZ, focus on the health and climate benefits of reducing pollution. If possible, use local evidence on pollution and health directly relevant to your area’s communities.
  • Recognize that dissent, opposition, and misinformation will polarise opinion. Provide clear and repeated information about the zone to the public and other stakeholders, including who will be charged and what help is available.
  • Identify a local and trusted policy champion(s) who can communicate the reasons for the intervention. Use a range of media to spread messages.
  • Work with local research partners to develop plans to monitor and evaluate the impact of the LEZ on pollution, transport-related behavior, and health.

For central policymakers:

  • LEZ policy should aim to improve health and not focus on legal compliance levels. There is no safe level of pollution.
  • The ability to adapt LEZ frameworks to local areas is a strength.
  • However, having different types of LEZ in other areas is confusing for the public. A national awareness campaign to explain the need for the LEZ and where they are located would help to increase knowledge of potential health and environmental gains and reduce the number of people being unwittingly fined.
  • Ensure that a robust systems-level evaluation is in place to understand the health and environmental benefits of the LEZ, along with unintended consequences.

Source: Knamiller, C., Rashid, R., Bryant, M., Bailey, E., & McEachan, R. R. (2024). Who shouts the loudest? A qualitative study exploring barriers and enablers to implementing a low emission zone in a Northern UK city. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 25, 101112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trip.2024.101112

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *