A low emission zone stops the dirtier vehicles travelling in an area and reduces pollution. Low emission zones can have a significant impact on air pollution. However, they often do not solve the problem alone. Other measures are also needed.

Most European cities have made Air Quality Action Plans to improve air quality. They often include implementing a low emission zone. What is in an air quality action plan will depend on the important sources of pollution in the city and how they can be reduced. The city action plan works together with national, regional and EU measures. Action is taken at the appropriate level. 

Examples of measures taken at local level include:

  • Measures to reduce the amount of traffic. And measures to improve other travel options. These include good and clean public transport, good cycle facilities or appropriate town planning.
  • City road tolls, or access regulations for different vehicles or trips to reduce the amount of traffic. This also means that those who need to travel by motor vehicle can move better.
  • Emergency traffic restrictions in times of high pollution, for example banning all or specific vehicles, diesel bans, allowing only alternating number plates on odd or even days. Find out more
  • Incentives for cleaner vehicles. For example reduced road tax, cheaper road tolls, grants for electric or hybrid vehicles, cheaper or available parking. 
  • Controls on construction sites. For example reducing demolition dust, using cleaner fuels, newer vehicles and fitting equipment like diesel particulate filters on diesel construction machines
  • Smoothing traffic flow, for example by synchronising traffic lights
  • Reducing speed limits on faster roads. This can improve traffic flow as well as making sure the vehicles travel at a cleaner and more efficient speed
  • Improving energy efficiency. Less fuel burned = less emissions
  • Emissions control of factories and power stations
  • Encouraging the very cleanest vehicles as much as possible. For example electric, hybrid, the very newest vehicles, or those with diesel particulate filters
  • Controls on using coal, oil or wood burning
  • Encouraging cleaner heating systems with grant funding and / or requiring heating systems to meet minimum standards.

Some measures are specific to some areas. For example in Scandinavia the studded winter tyres used in winter are a particular problem as they create lots of additional dust from the road surface. Specific measures are therefore taken for this studded winter tyres.

Measures often taken at a national level or regional level, include:

  • Financial help (grants or tax incentives) for cleaner vehicles. For example in many countries, efficient cleaner vehicles have cheaper road tax than inefficient dirtier vehicles
  • Legal frameworks to allow or require action at the city level
  • Funding for public transport
  • Aircraft policies

The European Union plays an essential role in reducing air pollution, through for example vehicle Euro standards or setting EU Air Quality Standards to protect health.

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