Boris u-turns on cab inspections in new air quality strategy

Six monthly checks for Taxi cabs fare being re-introduced
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has unveiled his new air quality strategy and indicated that up to 1,200 black cabs will need to be replaced by 2012.

Blaming road transport “for around 80 per cent of airborne pollution”, the Mayor’s strategy will require drivers of licensed cabs to replace any vehicle over 15 years old. Proposals to ban older cabs were first outlined in October 2009 in a draft version of the air quality strategy.

In 2008 Mayor Johnson abolished a six-monthly inspection for black cabs introduced by his predecessor, today’s strategy effectively reverses that decision with cabs “required to take two full MOT tests each year.” Many cab drivers are likely to be unhappy at the Mayor’s reversal of a manifesto commitment.

City Hall says these tests, which will come into effect from 2013 “at the latest”, will be made easier than before by being able to be carried out at local garages “rather than at only three available inspection centres.”

In October 2010 the Mayor told the London Assembly he was looking at “a range of other measures” instead of re-introducing six-monthly checks which he said “we don’t intend to restore” and claimed their was “mixed evidence” on their role the checks played in cutting pollution.

Other measures outlined in the plan include the previously announced campaign to increase take-up of electric cars and the implementation of the Low Emission Zone’s third phase (LEZ3) which was originally due to come into effect this year.

The Mayor has previously been criticised by environmental campaigners for his decisions to abolish the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge and delay introduction of the LEZ3.

In a statement marking publication of his strategy, the Mayor said: “From 2012 when the world heads to London, we will remove the oldest, dirtiest cabs from our streets. But we are also offering a juicy carrot, with the establishment of a fund to help speed up the introduction of electric black cabs. This forms part of a robust package of long-term measures to progressively clean up London’s air.”

Officials say the outlined measures are expected “to reduce PM10 emissions in central London by around 13 per cent by 2011 and by about a third by 2015 (compared to 2008).” A City Hall statement says in-house modelling “suggests that this will allow London to be compliant with legal limits by 2011.”

It’s expected that nitrogen dioxide levels will fall “by 35 per cent by 2015″ as a result of the measures.

Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly say the Mayor’s plans have “a hole” at their heart because they “lack effective measures to tackle pollution where it’s worst in central London.”

Environment spokesman Mike Tufrey said: “For almost two years I have called on the Mayor to bring in a Berlin-style clear air zone, using the existing camera enforcement system to exclude the oldest and most polluting vehicles.

“The Mayor has failed to act on the evidence available and the best he is now offering is merely further talks with the boroughs, when instead decisive action is needed to protect the health of Londoners.”

Green Party Assembly Member Darren Johnson said the Mayor’s own strategy showed he would fail to meet European legal limits nitrogen dioxide in 85-90% of the locations identified as hotspots.

Mr Johnson said the Mayor had “dithered and delayed for two and a half years over a half-baked plan that doesn’t do the job”.

Mr Johnson added: “The small steps forward on measures like electric vehicles and car clubs have had their money cut back. London’s excellent record on traffic reduction is under threat from huge increases in fares that may driver people back to their cars. The Mayor must act urgently through the introduction of road pricing, the proper inspection of black cabs, and a Very Low Emission Zone to target vehicles in central London.”

The Mayor’s air quality strategy can be found at london.gov.uk/air-quality