Lessons from Dieselgate: what is next for cities? - Outcomes of the Polis mobility breakfast

Polis Secretary General Karen Vancluysen introduced the topic and challenges that cities are facing today in reducing pollution and managing traffic through access regulations. She outlined that cities are living labs for innovation and measures such as electrified urban freight, electro mobility and charging infrastructure – all key to solve air quality problems in cities. You can read more about POLIS’ priorities and future events here.

Ms. Van Brempt then introduced the conclusions of the EMIS Committee, which was the first inquiry committee since 11 years in the EP and voted with large majority as the issues crossed over political lines. The investigation brought to light other culprits in the car industry who were found to be emitting four times more than the standard. She also mentioned that there already are good norms and laws in place but countries are failing at enforcing those and there is hardly any market surveillance in the EU. The public awareness is not there yet either however the figures are there: 28 000 premature deaths are caused by NOx and pollution. Out of these, 40% are caused by excess emissions above the legal limits. She outlined that the solution is to look at the longer term and fully go for the low emission vehicle on the condition that it is based on renewable energy and not powered by fossil fuels. The European Commission can and should do more to handle this situation and the processes have started to review the type approval requirements so that they are reflecting real world scenarios and perform outside of the laboratory testing environment. She encouraged cities to take part in the decision-making process in Brussels and to reinforce their impact on advocacy.

Filip Watteeuw, Executive Councillor for Mobility and Public works for the city of Ghent presented the city’s future plans to reduce the particulate matter caused by road traffic. After an initial assessment, it was found that 35% of Ghent cars do not meet Euro 4 standard. Two elements were put in place: a general mobility policy - active since 2014 - and an action plan for air quality. The key objectives of the mobility policy is to double public transport usage, double the use of cycling and reduce traffic by 50%. Watteeuw outlined that the parking plan was the most efficient measure adopted as well as restricting access by car in the inner city where a default speed limit of 30km/h has been implemented. Thanks to the measures adopted, Ghent saw this year an increase of 10% in the number of cyclists (from 30% bike use in 2015|) and an increase of 40% in the use of public transport. He launched a plea to the Flemish Government to support more public transport in cities. Concerning future plans, the Deputy Mayor said that 58 actions are foreseen in the action plan for air quality and most of them target the introduction of low emission zones (LEZ). He said that in this area, it’s important to have uniformity across the EU. A reduction of approximately 22% in black carbon is to be expected and more tightening of the area is foreseen by 2025.

Anna-Maria Spyriouni, Senior EU Policy Officer Greater London Authority, reminded the audience that pollution has been an historic concern for London, and although pollution overall is going down, there are still red spots where the limits are above the EU standards. She described the three step approach of the mayor of London, focusing on health, fairness and legal compliance. She said that London will be compliant by 2025 to meet the EU challenges for particulate matter. She underlined that exhaust is not the only problem of the city, and that tyre and break wear should also be an indicator to be measured. One measure that will help reduce this will be Ultra LEZ which will be enforced as of 2022 and no cars older than 6 years will be permitted to enter these areas with important fines being given for all vehicle categories. To read more about London’s plan to reduce emissions, you can find Ms Spyriouni ’s presentation here.

A discussion on the importance of developing real type approval testing for diesel cars arised and Ms. Van Brempt outlined that it will take two years to release a new test. She emphasised that bad fiscal policies encourage car ownership and encouraged cities to organise themselves and be more vocal as the decisions taken at local level can drive the market forward. Another question about the air quality stations was posed, and Ghent answered that their number has risen exponentially in the last years, currently having 50 installed and going to 100 in the next two to three years. In a final comment, the issue of public transport and buses in particular was addressed: here it is important to have a coherent approach – by either encouraging electrification or switching to a new diesel standard – but not both as it will be detrimental to the cities and operators alike.

Polis will closely follow up relevant evolutions in this respect. As a concrete action, the network will manage a group of experts to publish recommendations on mobility and air quality policy in the framework of the CIVITAS 2020 initiative.

For further information, contact the Polis Policy Officer, Luana Bidasca,