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Clearing the air – Is the Grattan truck ban a possibility or prohibitive?

Earlier this week, the transport industry criticised a Grattan Institute report calling for low-emission zones to be introduced to Melbourne and Sydney. This may remove some older trucks from driving in the area, but once understood, it may be a viable strategy to catch up with the rest of the world.

When the Grattan Institute released its report on truck air pollution earlier this week, it caused a storm. Yet, upon delving deeper into the report and its suggestions, the information presented may have been misinterpreted and misunderstood by the transport industry.

On Monday the Grattan truck plan: practical policies for cleaner freight report was released, saying old trucks could be banned from Sydney and Melbourne to reduce deadly air pollution. The plan suggested removing more than a quarter of Melbourne and Sydney’s trucks from CBD roads to push lower pollution and limit danger to citizens.

By the end of the day the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) responded. By the end of the week, the Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia (HVIA) had, too. While the HVIA said the report missed easy recommendations to reduce pollution, NatRoad CEO Warren Clark labelled the report as bonkers and unproductive, before saying that incentives and assistance should come before bans.

“The idea of banning trucks from capital cities is bonkers,” Clark says. “There is no market for electric or hydrogen trucks in Australia yet, so forcing an industry out of the country’s most populous cities is mad.”

But the Grattan Institute is quick to point out that the report was misunderstood by Clark and the industry. Grattan Institute transport and cities program senior associate Ingrid Burfurd says the first part of the report that was misconceived was that the report never once called for trucks to be completely banned from roads.

“Placing low-emissions zones in Melbourne and Sydney wouldn’t simply remove large numbers of trucks and change the freight task for the nation,” Burfurd told ATN. “It would tweak the structure of it, but it would mean newer and cleaner trucks would do more of the urban freight task, while those older trucks do regional runs.”

Under the Grattan Institute report, all trucks brought to market and purchased before 2003 would be banned in suggested low-emissions zones in the CBD of Melbourne and Sydney. This is because Burfurd has identified two types of old trucks. With trucks made before 1996, they didn’t have to meet any pollution standards at the point of sale. Burfurd says Grattan Institute research determined that trucks sold before 1996 emit about 60 times more particulate matter and air pollution than a truck sold recently, and up to eight times more nitrogen oxide.

These are both very dangerous pollutants that have serious health effects. Not to be confused with emissions, which relate to the environmental damage it can cause, pollutants directly impact human health, and can lead to a wealth of serious health conditions such as fatal lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases, strokes, non-respiratory cancers and type-two diabetes, particularly in children.  

The second type of old truck suggested in the low-emission zone ban are trucks sold between 1996 and 2003. These trucks adhere to the Euro 1 standard, which was the first generation of pollution standards in Australia.

“Unfortunately, Euro 1 now reflects out-of-date technology,” Burfurd says. “Trucks sold in this period release about 20 times more matter than modern trucks and up to four times more nitrogen oxide.

RELATED ARTICLE: Report calls to ban Sydney and Melbourne trucks by 2025

“In comparison, a modern truck would need to drive up and down a street 60 times to emit as much pollution matter as a truck from before 1996 driving down the same street just once.”

Essentially, Burfurd says banning trucks sold before 2003 is like adhering to a Euro 3 standard, as pre-2003 trucks were yet to include Euro 4 and beyond technology.

More than a ban

The report, like NatRoad and others suggested, doesn’t just simply call for trucks to be banned. Instead, Burfurd idealises a world where older trucks don’t drive in CBD low emission zones in order to protect the largest populations in the country. The Grattan Institute’s report was externally reviewed by industry bodies, agencies and government departments to ensure an appropriate plan was in place to support its position.

After trawling through regulatory impact statements, Burfurd says the report devised a two-point plan to help smooth the transition of these low-emission zones. The first element begins with providing relevant forewarning for operators before introducing a secondary truck replacement support funds system to help operators pay for the upgrade in models.

“We’ve recommended introducing low emissions zones in 2025 with replacement programs to open in 2023 to signal the timing well ahead of the zones coming into place,” Burfurd says. “This means there is plenty of forewarning and funding arriving in advance for operators.

“We want people to replace pre-2003 trucks with newer models. Some may choose to move outside of the low-emission zone while others may view the zone as an opportunity to expand its business into it, while some may exit the industry.

RELATED ARTICLE: Capital city truck ban proposal labelled as bonkers

“At the bottom line, low-emissions zones bring forward plans in the industry.”

The report plans for the truck replacement support fund to be a state government initiative, while further air pollution reductions, such as introducing Euro 6 standards for all new trucks from 2024 and sales incentives for zero-emissions trucks, would be left to the federal government. Along with financial assistance from the federal government for zero-emissions trucks, Burfurd says the plan ensures both the public and businesses can benefit from buying new energy trucks.

Burfurd is well aware that considering life cycles of trucks and upgrading isn’t easy for every operator, hence why the institute devised the forewarning and funding strategy.

“Currently, old trucks are emitting disproportionate amounts of pollution with every kilometre they drive,” Burfurd says. “The goal is to minimise the health risks while keeping the wheels of the economy and society turning.

“At the moment there’s no consideration for health, so the balance needs to be shifted sensitively to better recognise the health outcomes possible. This involves removing most of the polluting trucks from the highest density areas while minimising disruptions.”

Joining others

As previously pointed out in the report, the move also wouldn’t be the first of its kind. Similar restrictions have been in place in other countries for nearly 20 years. Tokyo first introduced a low-emission zone in 2003, while London followed in 2008. Burfurd says these zones, as also seen in Barcelona, Madrid and Beijing, are much stricter and are in place in more than 250 zones in Europe alone, as well as in both South and North American and Asia.

Burfurd says it’s actually unusual that Australia doesn’t yet have these zones to limit air pollution. While other cities revise iterations of the zones and even introduce zero-emissions areas, Burfurd finds the report’s suggestion for Melbourne and Sydney to be extremely moderate in comparison.

RELATED ARTICLE: HVIA discusses the Grattan truck plan

“In London, since 2021, all hired vehicles have had to meet Euro 6 standards, while we don’t even have that standard in new trucks here,” Burfurd says. “The proposal to limit trucks to Euro 3 standard or better in Australia’s two major capital cities with large and densely populated centres is very achievable and needs to happen.”

Despite NatRoad’s initial criticism of the report, it shares many similar thoughts as the institute. Clark says NatRoad does support the move to Euro 6 emissions standards along with mass concessions on axles, with subsidies being a valuable part of the plan.

Clark also agrees on seeking regulations for trucks, with the report calling for the width regulation to be amended. Australia currently requires truck to be 2.5 metres wide at most, compared to 2.55 metres in Europe and 2.6 metres in other countries. This means Australia can’t buy trucks that are wider than 2.5 metres, barring many zero or low-emissions truck options from entering the Australian market.

“It’s frustrating, and not just for us,” Burfurd says. “It’s been raised time and time again. It’s a well acknowledged barrier to importing the best practiced technology.”

Although the report received fierce opposition immediately, many details of it mirror what industry bodies are saying. It may be a shock for many operators, but the low-emission zone idea may be heading towards reality in Melbourne and Sydney soon.

“We want to address the issue of transitioning to zero-emission zones and making this technology more widely available to the Australian market,” Burfurd says. “It’s not a complete ban, what we want is for trucks to be replaced with newer second or third-hand diesel options.

“It means upgrading sooner rather than later and encouraging a healthier change for our country and people.”

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