Europe’s big cities getting serious: Will diesels soon be banished from city centers? Norway has long been considered one of the pioneers when it comes to air pollution control. Plans by the current liberal-conservative government to prohibit the registration of vehicles with combustion engines from 2025 onwards have caused quite a stir at home and abroad. And that is not the only remarkable thing the Scandinavians have done: At the beginning of 2017 the city government of Oslo, under its Mayor Marianne Borgen, for the first time pronounced a ban on private diesel vehicles. This applied only for two days and was supposed to help during acute smog weather conditions, but the general tendency in Europe’s large cities is clearly heading toward restrictions, in particular for compression-ignition engines.
Holland also has plans for a complete registration stop for all combustion engines. And the city of Rotterdam is threatening with an even tighter schedule. The city administration is planning to accept only completely emission-free delivery vehicles in the city starting from 2020. According to data from the Dutch Department of the Environment, such a ban could already be implemented in all other cities of the kingdom five years later. Bridging technologies such as natural gas engines have been categorically ruled out.
In the capital of France, vehicles with diesel engines have been declared a dying race, despite the fact that the French long promoted diesel engines through tax breaks. Paris has had a multi-level road tax disc system in place since 2016, which enables a selective prohibition of individual vehicle categories and has also banished all vehicles registered before 1997 from the city center. Diesels generally get a worse tax disc than petrol engines. And whoever operates a truck or a bus built before 2001, has already long had to deal with the fact that these are not allowed within the city limits at daytime.
While Vienna has not issued any driving bans yet, one Federal State has already pushed ahead with a disputed measure. On 1st November 2016 Tirol issued a driving ban for heavy-goods traffic on the Inntalautobahn (A12), thus forcing transit traffic, in particular, to look for rail alternatives or to take longer detours. Although it has not yet been finally clarified whether this measure conforms with EU law, it does make clear that political circles are not prepared to accept high fine dust pollution levels any longer.
Diesel engines a thing of the past?
The examples could be continued at will, for example with driving bans for certain number plates in Italy or with constant increases in city toll charges in London. The public debate is mostly concerned with private passenger cars, but delivery vehicles for the last mile or trucks that are driving through are affected by the measures almost everywhere as well. And in Germany too, where the cities have so far tried everything in order to get along without restrictions, courts are making life really hard for policy makers. The stipulations imposed by them hardly leave any room for other solutions than simple bans. It is thus that the transportation industry would be well advised to take a close look at alternative drive concepts and to push the issue on.
There are already first attempts in the right direction. Deutsche Post for example is in many cases using Streetscooters for parcel delivery within german inner city limits. This is a self-developed and produced electrically driven van. But manufactureres of heavy goods vehicles are also in the process of developing battery powered HGVs or funding research about fuel cell technology. A comprehensive overview of future propulsion methods is available in the story "New Power" on this site.