The War on Diesel

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

Evil Diesel

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has delivered a report to the government on how it can deliver a national scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles.  I wonder if that will include taxis?  And if so, how much we can expect to be offered?

It’s said that air pollution causes 50,000 premature deaths.  The government is becoming increasingly concerned, and City Hall is advising against unnecessary travel on high-pollution days.  I smiled wryly to myself as such a message flashed up by the side of Marylebone Road recently – having by-passed Euston Underpass to escape congestion exacerbated by the closure of Tavistock Place.  I’ve criticised London’s mad cap road schemes enough in the past, so I’m not going to get into road rage mode now, except to assert that road narrowing has a lot to answer for.

The Mayor believes motorists should be given up to £3,500 to replace their diesel cars with cleaner vehicles.  That won’t do cab drivers much good if we’re offered a similar amount, as that’s not much of a deposit on a new vehicle costing in excess of forty grand.  Of course, another big problem is, there are no electric cabs to offer us in part exchange anyway.  It’s gone a bit quiet on the electric cab front, so we’re probably looking two years into the future at least.  Hopefully by then, there will be more than one rapid charging point in London.

Years ago we were encouraged to buy diesel vehicles, as the carbon dioxide emitted by petrol engines was held responsible for global warming.  We don’t hear much about global warming now, and it’s emissions from nitrogen oxide in diesel that’s cited as the current evil.  Had the taxi manufacturers known that before the diesel backlash, they might have switched to petrol engine cabs.  I seem to remember a petrol option being available some years’ ago, but I don’t think they’re available now.  Anyway, the future is electric, and I think it’s an exciting move.  I just wish they’d get on with it.

I always suspected diesel was dodgy though. I bought my TX4 (Euro 4) cab from new six years’ ago, but was alarmed at the amount of smoke that London’s greenest and cleanest cab emitted.  On its first two annual inspections it failed on the emissions test.

Diesel cars still account for nearly half of all new sales, and as we know, drivers of certain commercial vehicles have no choice in the matter.  So, it’s annoying hearing people on radio phone-ins clamouring for more fuel duty to put on diesel.  The Mayor is also going to charge cars over eleven years old £10 to enter Central London from October, regardless of the vehicle’s mileage, or maintenance record.  I’ll park this particular issue, as we’ve had enough of this nonsense with our cabs’ birthdays under Boris.

What I’ve heard so far is too much stick, and not enough carrot.  Whenever the subject of air quality comes up, we hear experts telling us we should be walking and cycling to work.  As if we all live in Mayfair.  Are they so out of touch they don’t realise most people working in Central London live in the outer suburbs, or outside London completely?  Even if I had somewhere to park my cab in London, I couldn’t cycle in from Bedfordshire, and a train season ticket would cost a lot more than my diesel does.  Even if you have an office job in the City and live in Berkerley Square, a bike’s impractical if you’re carrying more than a sandwich box.

A car is a big investment, and a diesel car is what we were told to buy not so many years’ ago.  Many people will still be driving these.  It would be wrong to change the goalposts now.  I understand a third of the population are living in in-work poverty.  If poor people bought a diesel car way back, they probably couldn’t afford to let it go now. The London cab trade in particular is an industry of around 22,000 vehicles, and converting every vehicle from diesel to electric is going to take many years.  We don’t hear much about buses in all this: what about those nose to tail convoys of red monsters lumbering along Oxford Street and Regent Street?

The government are also concerned about pollution from wood-burning stoves.  Personally, I don’t know anyone with a wood burning stove, either at home, or fuelling their cab.  I don’t think the Carriage Office would allow that, though I think I saw something like it on Top Gear once.


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