Trialing the First Low Emission Zone in the US
Low emission zones (LEZs) are designated areas covering populated city centers that restrict the use of heavy-polluting vehicles. These restrictions can be for certain vehicle types and can operate only during certain times or be a harsher ban of heavy polluters entirely. Vehicles that meet emission standards, like electric, hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles, can continue with free movement within the zone. However, vehicles that don’t meet the strict standards will be fined or penalized upon entry.
The implementation of these zones in urban areas has various objectives and benefits. In general, improved air quality and decreased greenhouse gas emissions have been major motivators for new LEZs popping up around the world. Additional benefits include increased public health, less traffic congestion and greater incentive for electrification.
Typically, these zones have been most prominently seen around Europe, with the most notable LEZs covering cities in the UK, Germany and Netherlands. The City of London, which currently has the largest LEZ in the world, has already seen a 44 percent drop in NO2 concentration in the air since implementing the Ultra Low Emission Zone in 2017. This has shown great promise for other cities looking to clean up their air supply and give citizens a healthier living environment.
LA’s low emission zone
While these eco-friendly areas may be common on the other side of the Atlantic, one has recently popped up in the United States covering a square mile area in Santa Monica, California. The pilot LEZ will test the logistics and benefits of implementing such an initiative in a city like Los Angeles while paving the way for other cities around the country.
Santa Monica’s program specifically targets last-mile delivery vehicles whose presence has increased dramatically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic with the influx of online orders being made. For almost 16,000 Santa Monica residents this means that many of their home deliveries will now be made by electric delivery truck, e-bike or even on a battery-powered robot. To further support participants, any zero-emissions delivery vehicles will have access to priority curb access for loading.
Participation in the Zero Emissions Delivery Zone (ZEDZ) is completely voluntary but aims to align the sustainability goals of the city with the goals of companies operating within it. So far, fifteen major companies including Ikea, Nissan and Shopify have committed to participating in the ZEDZ.
Tying sustainability with innovation
The idea for Santa Monica’s ZEDZ was generated by the Transportation Electrification Partnership (TEP) in LA County. The TEP is also responsible for the Zero Emissions 2028 Roadmap which outlines plans to promote the adoption of electric vehicles across LA. The initiatives work in tandem to develop the political and technological support needed to effectively reduce pollution and congestion in the city.
In addition to testing out the concept of restricting heavy-polluting vehicles in certain areas, the pilot program could potentially change the way last-mile delivery services work. Emphasis on micromobility is a major component of the ZEDZ plans. This means relying more on e-scooters and e-bikes for food and parcel delivery instead of cars and trucks that contaminate the air and create additional traffic in busy cities.
Curbs will also be managed and prioritized for electric delivery vehicles using technology from a program partner called Automotus. Using video analytics technology, curbs within the ZEDZ will be monitored to study the program’s effect on delivery efficiency, driver safety, city congestion and gas emissions. The technology will also make it possible to access real-time parking availability data in order to assist ZEDZ drivers.
What this can mean for fleets
Though the ZEDZ program is currently voluntary, it is likely a way to ultimately transition into a region-wide low emission zone. Especially with Los Angeles County’s Climate Action Plan aiming to make the entire region carbon neutral by 2045, Santa Monica’s low emission zone will likely expand to surrounding areas and develop harsher restrictions over time.
If municipalities in the US choose to follow in the steps of London’s LEZ, there will likely be daily fines and penalties imposed on vehicles that don’t meet the zero-emission requirements. For fleet managers this will mean making the decision to either accept the fine as a cost of operation or begin to phase out diesel and gas vehicles for good.
Either way, these zones are created with the purpose of ultimately phasing ICEVs out entirely. For fleet managers across the country, it can be worth weighing these options even before a low emission zone has popped up nearby. Afterall, with so many local governments committing to carbon neutrality within the next few decades, it is only a matter of when.
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