My Urban Car

A plan to clean up the air in urban areas using technology.

There is a need and public support for action to rapidly improve air quality in London. The car industry has not been able to achieve this by really cleaning up diesels leaving city air dirty and harmful. An immediate ban of all diesels would cause chaos and financial loss to drivers who were pushed into this by government policy. The motor industry also needs to see a clear direction of travel and time to adjust. What is needed is a smart effective solution that can be delivered.

The Goals of the plan

To measure and store the quantity and content of emissions of every vehicle type in use in London by make, model, engine and year of registration. This would include all cars, vans, buses and lorries.

To sort and publish the emissions data once a sufficient number of readings have been taken so that drivers can make informed choices about buying and using vehicles based on real urban data.

To set goals for air quality improvements and then annually review how many of the dirtiest vehicles will need to become subject of the daily “dirty vehicle charge” to achieve that goal.

To keep adding more vehicles to the “dirty vehicle” list until pollution at least falls within permitted limits.

The technology

There are broadly 2 ways of measuring real world emissions with very different uses.


The PEMS system is attached to a vehicle exhaust and then the vehicle is driven in real world conditions and monitored. This is ideal for in depth data about particular vehicles or for testing emission cleanup technology under a range of conditions. It does require a trusted providor (Emissions Analytics is a leading UK provider) as the driving style and environment (eg urban or non urban) could greatly influence the results. If manufacturers are allowed to choose providers for this testing then there could be pressure to produce “better” results.

Emission Analytics has made much of its data public and this provides good information on many more recent Euro 5 and Euro 6 vehicles via its Equa Index.

Remote Sensing

The alternative Remote Sensing system provides a snapshot of the emissions of any vehicles that pass the roadside equipment. This provides the best solution for identifying the worst emitting vehicles of any type or any age, quickly and on a large scale with minimal chance of the results being influenced.

This proven technology looks down at traffic and when combined with ANPR provides data on every passing vehicle to be uploaded. Provided traffic is moving the system can collect details on thousands of vehicles a day. It records the quantity and composition of each cars emissions. The leading provider active in the UK is H.E.AT. whose laser based technology has already been evaluated in large scale UK trials. The equipment can simply be attached to existing street lamps along with a narrow strip painted across the road.

This is ideal for collecting bulk data in the real world on every vehicle type used in a city or road. Individual records are dependent on what the car is doing at the time (accelerating, coasting, braking, driving up a hill etc) however the system collects so much data that it can provide a reliable average based on 10’s or hundreds of the same model, engine and year ( eg once 10 or more Ford Focus 2007 1.6 diesels have been recorded).

It can also be used to identify individual vehicles that are worse than they should be due to poor maintainance or deliberate removal of particulate filters. These vehicles could be give 2 week enforcement notices and if not complied with the individual car, van or lorry would be added to the dirty vehicle charge list.

If a particular vehicle type or brand or model is also driven in a way that increases emissions because of driving style this will also be reflected in the result as the harm and pollution caused is being increased. A vehicle with a more polluting engine that is typically driven in a way that minimises its impact or has an efficient automatic gearbox that keeps engine revs low may perform better than a vehicles that are accelerated harder with higher revs.

The dirty vehicle charge

After 12 months notice any vehicle type classified as a “dirty vehicle” would be subject to a £10 daily charge if the vehicle is used between 7am and 7pm 7 days a week. It would apply anywhere within the north and south circular and enforcement would be by any listed model passing an ANPR camera anywhere during those times.

The charge will achieve several goals

It strongly discourages frequent use of the dirtiest most harmful vehicles at the time when they will do most harm to commuters, shoppers, schoolchildren, other predestrians, cyclists and other road users. Conversely it also reflects that rare use of a dirty vehicle does less harm.

It will raise revenue

Uses for the revenue

There are many ways discussed in detail in the policy exchange report that further air quality improvements can be made. These need but currently do not have budgets and the income from the charge would be an enabler. I would draw attention to the 10 point plan from the policy exchange but would focus on substitution and other investment.

Substitution for lower emission options

The dirty vehicle charge alone will reduce emissions but if drivers switch from a “dirty diesel” to an average diesel then the effect will be less pronounced than if they can substitute to a zero emission or low emission vehicle.

The charge alone should be sufficient to encourage a move to petrol engines but the aim would be to allow charges paid by drivers to be partially reclaimed as an incentive to spend on:

public transport via Oyster

electric car club vehicles

electric or hybrid petrol electric vehicles

Other Investment priorities:

Rapid adoption of an hybrid electric or electric cabs with diesel cabs subject to the charge until the driver places a deposit on a low emission vehicle once they are available. Conversion of the remaining existing cabs to LPG may also prove a useful interim measure.

Charging ports for every London car club space and incentives for a electric only fleet.

Ensuring that the bus fleet becomes low emission.

Support for a “I pledge not to buy another diesel” campaign. Pledges would be online, reported on by area and users would show their support with a car sticker on their current diesel or non-diesel car. Schools would be encouraged to get parents signing up

David Nicholson

David Nicholson Is the founder of Rivergecko Ltd & MyUrbanCar which provide consultancy and advice for drivers and fleets to speed the transition from dirty fossil fuel transport to clean vehicles powered by renewable energy on land water and air.

The @MyUrbanCar twitter feed is a source of news & reviews of electric & plugin cars and vans in the UK.
The @rivergecko twitter feed & websites bring news and opinion on cleantech transport including cars, vans, buses, trucks, shipping, rail & aviation as well as autonomous vehicles & renewable energy, air pollution & motor industry news.

David Nicholson has worked as an underwriter at Lloyd's of London since the 1980's. His interest in technology goes back many years including interactive mapping, apps, green tech, boats, solar and cars.