Public investment in buses and taxis will bring clean air to Greater Manchester more speedily than charging drivers to use the roads, the region’s mayor has said.
Andy Burnham laid out proposals on Wednesday for a non-charging clean air zone that would lead to an increase in the number of electric buses in the region from 85 to 199 next year; and provide grants to taxis from a £22.5m fund.
The proposals are a contrast to London where charging for non-compliant vehicles was introduced in 2015 by Boris Johnson, then the capital’s mayor.
The ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) was expanded this year to cover all of Greater London by Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor.
It became the largest clean air zone in the world and, while welcomed by many, it was also given as a significant reason why Labour did not win a summer byelection in Johnson’s old seat of Uxbridge.
Clean air charging zones have also been introduced in Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth, Sheffield, and Tyneside. Daily entry charges for non-compliant vehicles range from £7 for taxis in Bradford to £100 for lorries, buses and coaches in Bristol.
The charging zones have brought vocal opposition wherever they have been introduced but supporters say they work, with Bradford this year recording its lowest ever level of air pollution since records began.
Greater Manchester was due to have a charging clean air zone until Burnham, in February 2022, paused its introduction. He said charging was “not morally defensible” and a “pre-pandemic solution for a post-pandemic world”.
Burnham said on Wednesday cleaning up the air people breathe was a priority for Greater Manchester but that charging was not the best way forward.
“By accelerating investment in the Bee Network to create a London-style integrated public transport network, and upgrading GM-licensed taxis, we can improve air quality faster than if we introduced a clean air zone, and without causing hardship to our residents or businesses.”
Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities have been legally directed by central government to bring nitrogen dioxide to within legal limits as soon as possible and by the 2026 at the latest.
Eamonn O’Brien, the Labour leader of Bury council who is the clean air lead for Greater Manchester, said modelling showed that charging would not achieve compliance by 2026.
“There is now a compelling case for what Greater Manchester has set out – a plan that is fairer, cheaper, more affordable and more democratic.”
Details of the non-charging plan will be published this week in a report to be discussed at a committee meeting on 20 December.
The details include a £51.2m investment in 64 zero-emission electric buses and upgrades to charging infrastructure at depots.
There would also be a £22.5m “clean taxi fund” providing grants of between £3,770 and £12,560 to help taxis meet a new minimum standard by the end of 2025. Taxi drivers who already meet the standard would be helped by an £8m electric upgrade fund.
A further £5m would be spent on measures to manage traffic flow on some roads in the centre of Manchester and Salford.
The Greater Manchester combined authority said the new plan would “deliver on government legal direction without putting jobs and livelihoods at risk.
“It is for government to decide the measures that get the green light – Greater Manchester’s preferred investment-led, non-charging plan, or a charging clean air zone.”