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:

For road vehicles:

hydrogen bus engine German air quality management speed limits Electric car van charging and charging point  no idling vehicles campaign road sign air quality pollution information board

  • Measures to reduce the amount of traffic. And measures to improve other travel options. These include good and clean public transport, good cycle facilities, low emission car sharing schemes 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.
  • 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
  • Encouraging the very cleanest vehicles. Vehicles with zero emissions (on the road), electric, hydrogen and plug-in-hybrid vehicles. Or vehicles with the very newest vehicles, or diesel particulate filters.
  • Information campaigns about turning the engine off while stationary - no idling - or general information campaigns on air quality levels.

For sources other than road vheicles:

Factory plumes emitting off road digger emitting exhaust car ferry exhaust emitting  Airside service vehicles airport  poor air quality at train station 

  • Emissions control of factories and power stations
  • 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
  • Improving energy efficiency. Less fuel burned = less emissions
  • Controls on using coal, oil or wood burning
  • Encouraging cleaner heating systems with grant funding and / or requiring heating systems to meet minimum standards.
  • Cleaner service vehicles at airports
  • Electrifying train lines, cleaner train engines and cleaner train diesel fuel

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

The European Union plays an essential role in reducing air pollution, through for example vehicle Euro standards, cleaner road, off-road or shipping fuels, aircraft policies or setting EU Air Quality Standards to protect health.

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