‘Glimmer of hope’ for Glasgow taxi drivers over Low Emission Zone

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Taxi drivers in Glasgow have a “glimmer of hope” in their fight to delay the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) roll-out after the city’s Labour group called the decision in.

Glasgow Labour has written to council chief executive Annemarie O’Donnell requesting further scrutiny of the plan, following a late change which allows taxi drivers who can show they are in the process of upgrading their cars to avoid fines when enforcement begins.

The SNP administration believes temporary exemptions strike a balance between “giving the taxi sector an extended period to become compliant” and tackling the impact of vehicle emissions on the health of Glasgow residents.

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They were approved when the final design of the LEZ was agreed by the city administration committee last week. However, the Labour group believes the exemption proposal is “vague” and wants the issue to go back in front of a scrutiny committee.

The next phase of the LEZ — designed to tackle air pollution in the city centre — is set to come into force on May 31 but with a one-year grace period for enforcement.

The new rules will be introduced in 2023.The new rules will be introduced in 2023.
The new rules will be introduced in 2023. | JC

All vehicles entering the city centre zone must meet the required emission standards to avoid fines, unless they are exempt. Unite the union’s Glasgow Cab Section has said temporary exemptions for taxi drivers are “completely unworkable.”

Steven Grant, from the union, said the news of Labour’s letter “came as a relief” but “we’re not that naive to think it’s a done deal.”

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He said it gave the trade a “glimmer of hope”, adding: “Hopefully the committee will actually look at the facts.”

With the LEZ roll-out, the impact of the Covid pandemic on the trade, rising fuel prices and a cost of living crisis, he said: “There’s only so much these drivers can take.”

The industry had warned around 1,000 cars could be forced off the road for being non-compliant when the new rules come into force. Unite has said drivers can’t afford the investment needed, their choice of vehicles is limited and cars can’t be replaced or retrofitted in time.

Labour’s letter, signed by councillors Malcolm Cunning, Eva Murray, Bill Butler, Marie Garrity and Maureen Burke, stated the LEZ introduction “continues to attract significant public attention and concern.”

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It added “very late” proposals to mitigate the concerns were tabled but the amendment was “vague.”

It said: “Further, we are not satisfied that the proposals were sufficiently described at the meeting, nor are we satisfied that officers were in a position to give satisfactory answers to questions.

“Far from the intent of the original proposal that ‘operators have certainty over the start of LEZ enforcement’, this last minute and vague proposal does the exact opposite.”

The Labour letter asks for answers on “the legal, operational and financial implications” of the proposals before it is sent to Scottish Ministers.

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Their questions include what talks have been held with the Scottish Government, is there a risk of legal action from drivers of non-taxis who could prove arrangements in place to achieve LEZ compliance and what ‘a time limited period’ of exemption from penalty charges means.

They also ask whether the proposals “adequately address concerns around supply chains and capacity to carry out necessary retrofitting of the taxi fleet”.

The letter added: “We recognise that public health is of utmost importance in this debate and do believe that there requires to be certainty for all those potentially affected by the introduction of the LEZ.

“Therefore, we would appreciate that this issue is addressed as speedily as possible.”

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However, an SNP spokesman said: “This decision taken at the City Administration Committee was about striking the balance between giving the taxi sector an extended period to become compliant with the LEZ and chronic pollution.

“It is imperative that we address air quality in our city, a public health issue which has severe consequences for many of our vulnerable citizens.

“There is no doubt the taxi trade has had a torrid couple of years and the decision taken gives drivers more time. Equally, we need to recognise that Glasgow continues to have some of the most polluted streets in the UK resulting in poorer health outcomes for our citizens and we have a responsibility to tackle this.”

If the issue goes back to a scrutiny committee, any recommended changes would then need the support of the city administration committee.

Glasgow City Council has been approached for comment.

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