My local paper is usually only good for rounding up this week’s local crime tally, but the issue that has just dropped through my door was more interesting than usual.
The cover line was ‘Fighting For Air’ and it revealed that posh Putney (which sits on the south bank of the River Thames in south-west London) is one of the most polluted parts of the country.
It revealed that the council’s monitoring stations in the local high street had found that Nitrogen Oxides levels exceeded the permitted EU limits 18 times in the first three days of the year. 18 breaches is more than is allowed for a whole year under the EU rules.
Apparently, these NO2 readings were higher than last year and that levels of the tiny PM10 particulates were the highest since the readings began in 2003. Simon Birkett of the Clean Air London campaign thinks that pollution caused as many as 148 premature deaths in Wandsworth Borough in 2008. I suspect he’s right: I know one person who developed a nasty lung disease and they lived in one of the capitals premier particulate and NO2 traps.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the report was the admission by all concerned that two thirds of the pollution was being caused by the 120 buses that grind up and down Putney High Street. One of the inherent problems is that London’s bus stops are a bare 500m apart, forcing buses into a series of acceleration and braking manoeuvres that could not have been better designed to create pollution.
Usually, the revelation of breached pollution levels in the capital kicks off with so-called ‘Greens’ getting wound-up about Co2 (which is not a pollutant as far the EU is concerned) and then blaming the whole thing on ‘gaz-guzzling Chelsea tractors’ which are, as we all know, some of the cleanest vehicles on the roads.
So hats off to Transport for London’s Mike Weston (an impressive bloke who I met a few times during the New Bus 4 London project) for promising, by October, 10 new Hybrid buses and 13 Euro 5-rated diesel buses for Putney’s routes.
It’s very refreshing to see that much of the capital’s terrible air quality is being pinned on the correct culprits, as politically uncomfortable as it maybe for public transport (which also includes black cabs) to be the villain of the peace.
But there’s a better, longer-term, solution to ever-cleaner diesel and expensive hybrids for the single-decker buses and taxis, at least: gas. All buses in diesel-averse California are powered by CNG and wear huge gas tanks on their roofs.
There is no cleaner-burning fossil fuel: there’s a galaxy-worth of the stuff underground, it’s low-Co2 and a gas-powered drivetrain is cheaper than a Euro5 diesel and far cheaper than a hybrid.
The quicker we start to switch to gas power for inner-city vehicles the better.