Absolute Zero: Introducing Zero Emission Zones

Absolute Zero: Introducing Zero Emission Zones

Why are Zero Emission Zones for freight a priority? What problems do they solve and what benefits do they bring? POLIS' Giacomo Lozzi reports.

POLIS, together with Transport Decarbonisation Alliance and C40, have published a How-To Guidance to support cities and countries considering freight and service deliveries in their decarbonisation strategies.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) considers air pollution to be the main threat to environmental health: in 2016, almost half a million (452,000) premature deaths in Europe were caused by long-term exposure of citizens to concentrations of PM2.5, NO2 and O3. While maintaining the necessary differences, it is interesting to report that, as of 25 November 2020, COVID-19 caused 302,641 deaths in the EU and UK. Unlike air pollution, it has been fairly treated as an absolute emergency.

Urban transport systems as they are organised now cause many injustices, inefficiencies and costs. In the European Union, the number of road accident victims in 2018 recorded 25,000 citizens, of which 38% were in urban areas. INRIX has estimated the costs resulting from congestion: in Germany, the losses would amount to €2.8 billion in 2019, while the damage for the UK would amount to £6.9billion, with London accounting alone for £4.9bn of that which equates to £1,162 per driver.

The need to intervene to protect citizens' rights to breathe clean air and not die from pollution should be seen as an opportunity both by political decision-makers and by private transport companies operating in cities – given that it also implies gains in terms of safety and efficiency. Moreover, bold action in needed to achieve the goals of the Transport White Paper related to urban mobility, namely:

  1. Halve the use of ‘conventionally fuelled’ cars in urban transport by 2030, and phase them out in cities by 2050
  2. Achieve essentially CO2-free city logistics in major urban centres by 2030
  3. Move close to zero fatalities in road transport by 2050, whilst halving road casualties by 2020

These deadlines are just around the corner, and there is a clear need for acceleration and a radical change, as even a recent report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA) found “no indication that EU cities are fundamentally changing their approaches and that there is no clear trend towards more sustainable modes of transport”. In particular, “cities display difficulties in developing coherent policies in the areas of parking, traffic-free zones and cycling”.

An integrated and coordinated solution: zero-emission zones for freight

As cities around the world seek to reduce these negative impacts, many are now devising zero-emission zones (ZEZs) for public transport and personal mobility. But while urban freight produces a substantial share of pollution and CO2 emissions (see Figure 1), few cities and countries have developed a vision and implementation pathway specifically for the freight sector.

Figure 1 - Proportion of vehicles in traffic and emissions

Zero-emission zones for freight (ZEZ-Fs) are areas in cities where only zero-emission delivery and freight transport vehicles may enter. ZEZ-Fs can make a significant contribution to the urban environment. They can help cities achieve important goals including cleaner air and lower greenhouse-gas emissions, but also make urban logistics more efficient. Moreover, developing ZEZ-Fs can also provide a clear signal to vehicle manufacturers to accelerate the mass production of zero-emission freight vehicles. During one of the last meetings of the Logistics Living Lab of Rome, a stakeholder declared: “the couriers are aligned with the decarbonisation objectives of the EU.

However, it is essential that the timeline for the achievement of these objectives follows the principle of progressivity, it is consistent with the evolution and availability of the offer of green vehicles and, in parallel, with the connected charging infrastructure”.  Devising a ZEZ-F is a complex process involving many stakeholders. Although each city has its own peculiarities, some steps and key elements are recurrent and generalizable.

For this reason, POLIS joined forces with C40 and Transport Decarbonisation Alliance, to prepare a How-To Guide on Zero-emission zones for freight, by sharing the experience of ZEZ-F pioneers and showcasing the enormous potential of zero-emission freight. This is the first document dedicated specifically to the definition of areas for the zero-emission delivery of goods and services - and which is aimed at policy makers around the world. At least as far as Europe is concerned, if, as the White Paper for Transport says, in 10 years urban centres must be characterized by CO2-free city logistics, it is time for countries and cities to act together and coherently.

ZEZ-Fs should not be seen as ‘vehicle replacement’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ interventions. Rather, they can encompass a new way of seeing freight as a system. Objectives include reducing freight trips through enhanced efficiency and new collaborations; rethinking the way goods and services are transported; choosing the most appropriate transport mode; and making sure those transport modes are zero-emission (see figure 2).

Figure: 2: ZEZ-F objectives

Towards a Successful ZEZ-F: Steps for Action

ZEZ-Fs should be framed within a large ecosystem of regulations, financial incentives, infrastructure investments, and other urban, regional, national and international plans and strategies. Therefore, city officials should be aware that factors both within and beyond city limits can significantly influence the success of ZEZ-F planning. Based on the experience of some pioneers, the following steps are proving helpful in getting buy-in and approval for these zones. The order may vary from city to city, and most will proceed in an iterative and cyclical process.

Build trust with stakeholders throughout the broad freight community

Owners and operators of freight vehicles range from multinational companies to sole-proprietor shops, from tradespeople to professionals providing repair and maintenance services. Freight vehicles include long-haul trucks, delivery and service vans, construction vehicles, waste and street-cleaning vehicles, even cargo bicycles and other “last-mile” solutions. Understanding the needs, challenges, and interests of the various sub-communities is key to enabling collaboration and devising effective rules and incentives regulating ZEZ-Fs.

Morning deliveries in car-free area in Brussels, Belgium, © Giacomo Lozzi

Clarify city objectives and regulatory powers

Each city’s ZEZ-F will be unique—the size, shape, and management depending on the city’s vision, the stakeholders and the authority governing it. The most obvious objectives of a ZEZ are meeting decarbonisation targets and reducing air and noise pollution hotspots to improve equity and health for disadvantaged communities. However, goals vary and do not refer only to making logistics clean. Indeed, the establishment of regulation for access contributes to lower congestion and improve efficiency, as well as stimulate the demand for zero-emission freight vehicles, the only ones which would be entitled to access the area.

Set an ambitious but realistic target timeline

Setting an ambitious but progressive and realistic timeline can help put ZEZ-F planning in motion and galvanise the interest of companies and other stakeholders. For instance, the 35 signatory cities to the C40 Green and Healthy Streets Declaration have each committed to implementing a major ZEZ by 2030. They are at work with local partners, who are able to develop clear timelines thanks to the target date. Some cities have set shorter timeframes: London, for example, aims to implement local zero-emission zones from 2020 and a central London zero-emission zone by 2025. In the Netherlands, 30–40 cities aim to implement ZEZ-Fs by 2025.

Develop an implementation strategy

Electric truck for waste collection in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, © Giacomo Lozzi

A ZEZ-F strategy might be phased. The zone might launch by encompassing the central commercial district, then expand to a larger, mixed-use area within a few years, before reaching its full dimensions at an agreed later date. Partners beyond the freight community have a role to play in strategy design as well, to ensure that all voices are heard and impacts considered.

Test and pilot your desired interventions

Pilot projects allow stakeholders to define new collaboration schemes, test procedures and vehicles, and measure initial impacts— intended and not. Beyond providing data, pilots can build private-sector confidence in investing in zero-emission solutions and help companies make informed decisions about costs and savings. “Logistics Living Laboratories” accelerate testing and piloting, and are spreading in European and North American cities. Their aim is to co-create and test effective and sustainable solutions on urban logistics in an ongoing and iterative process. All stakeholders—public and private, policy, research, and industry—work together to streamline testing in real-life operations, and collect and analyse data for modelling and planning.

Implement, monitor, fine-tune…and enforce

Much will be learned about implementation, monitoring and enforcement of ZEZ-Fs as the first cities begin to implement them in the years ahead. Implementation will be specific to each city and zone, taking place in the context of extensive stakeholder consultation, with agreed timelines, key performance indicators (KPIs) and plans for monitoring. Data collection and analysis by cities, in collaboration with stakeholders, is key to informing an evidence-based policy making process. Cities can make data sharing a requirement for access to zones or charging stations. Nevertheless, cities should clearly define the purpose for which they collect and analyse data, so as to entice the private sector to share them, and establish models to understand and interpret the data collected. To facilitate compliance, cities should accompany enforcement procedures with accessible information about the rules.

Case studies: Two examples where ZEZ for freight are taken seriously

The Netherlands: 30–40 cities to implement harmonized ZEZ-Fs by 2025

The Dutch National Climate Agreement requires the logistics sector to significantly reduce CO2 emissions. One of the recommended tools is the implementation of ZEZ-Fs in the country’s 30-40 largest cities. The cities have agreed to announce details of their ZEZ-F four years in advance, in 2021, to allow time to prepare for implementation. The Netherlands has also developed nationally harmonized principles for zero-emission freight, including:

  • Delivery vans and trucks bought after 2025 must be zero-emission if they are to enter any city with a ZEZ-F.
  • The government will offer tax incentives and subsidies to help companies transition to zero-emission vans and trucks.
  • Cities receive support from an “expert pool” to help identify key challenges for their specific city, create implementation plans, share learnings on a national level, and provide tools and support for the local decision-making process.

London: From “ultra low” to zero emission

London is planning a series of progressively larger ZEZs to support Mayor Khan’s goal that by 2050 London will be a “zero carbon city” and enjoy the best air quality of any major city in the world. The London Mayor’s Transport Strategy 9 (2018) declares goals for zero-emission zones in town centres from 2020; a ZEZ in central London from 2025; larger ZEZs in inner London by 2040, and a ZEZ throughout greater London by 2050.

To date, two London boroughs are working to implement ZEZs: Hackney and the City of London both restrict access to non-ZEVs. Following a scheme which successfully took 5,000 polluting vans and minibuses off the roads, the city now provides freight operators with incentives to scrap polluting trucks and replace them with a cleaner option to comply with upcoming, tightened emission standards.

About the author:

Giacomo Lozzi is Urban Freight Coordinator at POLIS Network, glozzi@polisnetwork.eu