Leeds Council announces new Clean Air Zone launch date amidst criticism from taxi drivers

Low-emission electric taxis will be exempt from the Clean Air Charging Zone when it is introduced next year
Low-emission electric taxis will be exempt from the Clean Air Charging Zone when it is introduced next year
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Leeds City Council has pushed back the Clean Air Charging Zone until at least July 2020 amidst criticism of the scheme by Leeds taxi drivers.

The scheme will aim to tackle air pollution by charging high-emission HGVs and buses £50 a day to drive in the city, while high-emission taxis and private hire vehicles would pay £50 a week.

Diesel taxis and private hire vehicles will have to pay 50 a week to drive in Leeds when the zone is launched

Diesel taxis and private hire vehicles will have to pay 50 a week to drive in Leeds when the zone is launched

It was originally planned to go live in January 2020, but the launch was postponed in June due to a 'government delay in delivering digital systems' required for the zones.

Now, the council has confirmed that the zone's final launch date will be at least July 2020.

Councillors will discuss the progress of the scheme in an executive board meeting next week, including the installation of camera infrastructure which has already begun.

A network of 300 purpose-built ANPR cameras are being installed at over a hundred junctions around the perimeter of the zone with the work expected to complete in December.

But the Clean Air Charging Zone isn't welcomed by everyone. Alfy Khan, aged 35, has been a private hire driver in Leeds for over 15 years.

He drives a diesel BMW after getting advice that it was more cost-effective than petrol cars five years ago.

-> How the Leeds Clean Air Zone will work and who has to pay the charge
While Alfy, who lives in Harehills, is in support of the scheme, he believes the Council need to do more to help private hire drivers to afford new low-emission cars.

He said: "The charging zone is a good idea because it helps with pollution, but [the council] are going the wrong way about it.

"They are targeting a small proportion of cars and not the cars that actually cause the most pollution.

"About five years ago, general advice was to change to diesel cars. I got my diesel car then and now the council are saying to change to petrol-hybrids.

"Hybrid cars are a good idea, I'm asthmatic myself and when an unserviced diesel car throws out a lot of soot and smoke I do struggle to breathe.

"But [petrol-hybrid cars] cost about £10,000 to £15,000 and you use a lot more fuel with petrol, so it's more expensive."

Leeds Council are offering loans and financial support to taxi and private hire drivers and will distribute £23 million of funding to help owners, leaseholders and operators of affected vehicles with the costs of switching to cleaner models.

-> This is who can apply for Leeds Clean Air Charging Zone grants and how much they could get
However, Alfie said that many taxi drivers are being rejected from the loans as their income fluctuates over the year.

He said: "They have tried to give us support with loans, but no one I know has actually been approved.

"Taxi incomes can be up and down, in the summer it is quiet but in winter it gets busier, so it's hard to meet the criteria for the loans.

"What the council should have done is help private cars through a scrappage scheme, giving us a sum of money for the old car rather than a loan towards a new one."

If the Clean Charging Air Zone is introduced next July as planned, Alfy says he will have to get a hybrid car on finance as it is more cost-effective than paying the £200 a month charging fee.

But he says there are other problems with driving a more expensive car.

Alfy added: "The council are pushing us to finance a hybrid vehicle, but with a car worth £10,000 I wouldn't feel safe to work in the evenings.

"I already go home after about 7pm, because you get stones thrown at your car at night in areas like Gipton, Seacroft and Swarcliffe.

"If it cracks the windscreen that's a massive cost and if I had a more expensive car I wouldn't work after dark. I'd rather be safe than sorry.

"The council should be focusing on that problem."

Leeds Council encourage every business that may be affected to contact them to find out about the help that may be available.

-> Fears raised for future of Leeds small businesses if clean air charging zone launched in 2020
Councillor James Lewis, executive member with responsibility for air quality, said: "Like most residents in Leeds, we believe that tackling air pollution to protect the health of everyone in Leeds is a priority and we're working hard to deliver the CAZ as soon as possible.

"Measures taken to improve air quality will also have many other benefits, such as helping the city to reduce its contribution to the climate emergency. Once fully implemented, it's estimated that the Clean Air Charging Zone will reduce the city's carbon footprint by almost 50,000 tonnes.

"We're already seeing hundreds of cleaner vehicles on our streets, and as the charging zone launch draws nearer we will no doubt see more of the worst polluting vehicles disappear from our roads.

"Helping owners of affected vehicles switch to less polluting models that won't be charged is the best way to support local business. It's also the best way to improve air quality in Leeds before the charging zone's introduction.

"I strongly encourage every affected business to visit our website today and find out more about what they need to do to prepare for the zone and explore financial support available".

-> Here's why Leeds City Council is asking Chancellor Sajid Javid for Clean Air Zone cash