Oxford Council’s proposed car ban: expensive, futile, and unnecessary

Data released by the World Health Organisation last year showed that Oxford was one of 11 British cities to breach the limits set for toxic particles known as PM10s – now the city council has decided it is time for a change. In response to this rise in air pollution, the council has announced its intention to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles from the city centre beginning in 2020. The introduction of the zero-emissions zone is predicted to see levels of nitrogen dioxide, which comes from cars (particularly those with diesel engines), fall by up to three quarters by 2035. If the plan were to go ahead, then Oxford would become the first UK city to ban all diesel and petrol cars in its centre; even cities such as London have only introduced an ‘ultra-low emission zone’, as opposed to a complete ban. 

However, with the UK government planning to ban the sale of all diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040, the Oxford car ban is arguably a futile effort that will cause more harm than good. The costs of the scheme are set to be phenomenal, with estimates stating that it will cost bus operators, taxi firms, haulage companies, and councils a combined £14 million. Stagecoach, Oxford Bus Company, local businesses and all taxi firms will have to spend a minimum of £7 million replacing petrol and diesel vehicles, including a complete change in all of the council’s bin lorries and gritting vehicles. When these changes would have been made in the near future anyway as a result of the government’s new transport legislation, enforcing it in the short term will cause substantial damage to local businesses who may not be able to afford the cost so soon. For example, black cab drivers anticipate having to make an investment of £60,000 as a result of the proposals. 

When our city faces pressing endemic problems such as homelessness, the council would be better off spending the money on tackling these social issues

Oxford City Council have proposed a radical system too soon, whilst ignoring future government measures. It is also a system which will only cause issues for students and residents, whilst making little impact to the air quality around the city. With only a handful of sites experiencing truly high pollution levels, and air quality already seeing a huge improvement, the ban is unlikely to make a considerable difference. The proposed area also excludes St Clements, the worst-polluted road in Oxford. 

The council will also need to spend £7 million on administration and a new CCTV system that includes features such as automatic number plate recognition with which to enforce the ban. This is a high cost to shoulder, and considering that petrol and diesel cars will be phased out across the country over the next few years anyway, the system will not be put to effective use in the long term. When our city faces pressing endemic problems such as homelessness, the council would be better off spending the money on tackling such social issues rather than installing expensive, high-tech systems that will be redundant just five years after the complete ban has come into place in the city. 

Whilst London’s new T-charge aims to have similar effects as the Oxford car ban, with motorists who drive the most polluting cars in London having to pay £21.50 per day to use the capital’s roads, this seems like a more common sense approach. Of course public health issues are important, and a solution is certainly needed, but Westminster has already provided for much of this in the long term. The council is therefore only causing more problems for itself – and its residents – by jumping the gun and trying to be the first to impose these unnecessary measures.