Boris Johnson has defended plans to allow his flagship bus to drive in central London despite not meeting new emissions standards aimed at cutting the number of deaths attributed to poor air quality.
From 2020 all vehicles entering a new ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone’ will need to comply with limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and CO2 emissions or face a daily fine.
The new rules apply to all private and commercial vehicles, including coaches and buses.
However it emerged earlier this month that Mr Johnson and Transport for London intend to allow hundreds of New Routemaster buses to operate in the zone despite not meeting emissions limits.
This means TfL, which owns the buses, and bus operators will escape the fines paid by businesses and households who cannot afford to upgrade their vehicles.
The plans were branded “indefensible” by Liberal Democrat and Green Party London Assembly members who said Mayor Johnson could have purchased cleaner vehicles from the outset but for “his irrational obsession with the incredibly expensive new routemaster bus”.
The Mayor has now defended the decision to keep operating the buses in the ULEZ area on the grounds of cost.
Responding to a question from Green Party AM Darren Johnson, he claimed that replacing non-compliant Euro V engines with Euro VI models would cost between £7 million and £15 million but not deliver sufficient reductions in emissions.
The Mayor’s answer says: “TfL must spend its funds as cost efficiently as possible to raise air quality in London at the earliest time.
“Replacing higher emitting Euro III buses outside the ULEZ, for instance, would cut NOx from these vehicles by up to 95 per cent.
“However, upgrading 306 New Routemasters from Euro V to the Euro VI standard would result in a vehicle NOx saving of 15 per cent.”
Commenting on the Mayor’s answer Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London, said: “The Mayor’s Vanity Bus is likely to be a Business School case study in lunacy.
“Londoners are dealing every day with the consequences of a Mayor, responsible for a transport authority, thinking he can design, build and operate a bespoke new bus then getting stuck with already outdated technology for 14 years instead of the normal worst case of seven.
“Even a bog-standard Euro VI diesel bus would have produced less than a third of the emissions of oxides of nitrogen of his Euro V Vanity Buses.
“The Mayor’s lack of leadership on the so-called Ultra Low Emission Zone is typified by him claiming a total exemption for hundreds of Vanity Buses, allegedly because he wants to spend his money on something else, while insisting others comply whatever the cost to them.
“Instead, Boris should be banning all diesel from Central London as coal was banned so successfully 60 years ago.”
In response to a separate question from Labour’s Val Shawcross, the Mayor confirmed that the TfL board had sanctioned the purchase of 200 additional buses without knowing the final cost.
He said: “I anticipate the unit cost being in line with the existing batch, however, which would be a very good deal for London as the extra 200 will include the more expensive low-emission Euro VI engine, no uplift for inflation and potential enhancements that become available with later batches of vehicles produced.”
Previously reported TfL board papers confirm the new buses will operate with their rear platform doors closed to avoid paying for second crew members.