Vehicle recovery operators call for special dispensation as London low emission zone rules tighten

Vehicle recovery organisations are calling for a special dispensation from tougher London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) regulations to enable specialist breakdown trucks to continue to operate and keep traffic congestion to a minimum, particularly during next year’s Olympic Games.

Organisations belonging to the European Rescue and Recovery Initiative (ERRI) say that the cost of complying with the new LEZ regulations, which comes into effect in January next year, far exceeds any return on investment.

The ERRI, which represents a wide cross section of organisations involved in the vehicle rescue and recovery industry estimates that approximately 50 specially built breakdown units used to recover a wide range of vehicles including buses and HGVs are affected by the tightening of LEZ regulations.

All the vehicles, which have a GVW of between 12 and 40 tonnes, meet Euro3 emissions legislation, but from January 3 next year only vehicles that meet Euro4 emissions standards will be allowed to enter the LEZ without paying a penalty charge. The fine has been set at £1,000 per vehicle each time it enters the LEZ reduced to £500 if paid within 14 days.

To ensure compliance, vehicle recovery operators – known as the fourth emergency service – must:

• Invest in new vehicles at a cost of more than £400,000 per unit

• Fit a diesel particulate filter to the existing vehicle at a cost of more than £5,000.

However, operators belonging to the ERRI say the cost of investing in a new fleet of recovery trucks is prohibitive, while some diesel particulate filters do not function in conditions in which recovery vehicles operate.

For example, diesel particulate filters operate at optimum efficiency when vehicles are travelling for a sustained period of time at speeds in excess of 30 mph, which does not apply to recovery trucks.

Similarly, when attending an incident the truck engine is left idling to run emergency warning lights and operate specialist lifting/winching equipment. Under such conditions, some diesel particular filters do not function.

Phil Todd, Masterserve Network Manager at Fleet Support Group, which is Britain’s largest independent fleet management company with 55,000 vehicles on its books and operates its own assistance programme, CARE (Car Accident and Roadside Emergency), said: “Most of the retrofit diesel particulate filters available are not suitable for roadside recovery vehicles and those that are suitable can be extremely expensive. It is possible for the emissions generated from the vehicle to become even greater than they would be without the filter.

“Additionally, the return on investment on a new Euro4-compliant truck is not commercially viable for operators.

“Consequently, the likelihood of an operator refusing to attend an incident such as a vehicle fire, an overturned vehicle or a broken down vehicle when the only appropriate vehicle is LEZ non-compliant is a serious concern, especially if that was to occur during the London Olympics when thousands more people are travelling across the capital.

“Statistically it is inevitable that there will be several incidents occurring in London during next year’s Olympic Games, which will require the attendance of specialist recovery vehicles. These vehicles are essential to keep London moving and the Olympic Games will bring added pressure to ensure the free movement of traffic.”

The ERRI has already held a number of meetings with officials from Transport for London, which operates the LEZ, London Mayor Boris Johnson’s office and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.

Mr Todd said: “Twelve months of dialogue has got us nowhere and the clock is ticking. The issue will not go away and the common sense approach is to give the small number of vehicle recovery trucks affected a special dispensation to allow them to continue to operate inside the LEZ. Otherwise, the implication is that London will become a no-go zone for heavy recovery vehicles.

“All operators want to help ensure that accident damaged and broken down vehicles are recovered efficiently and effectively to ensure congestion in London is kept to an absolute minimum.”

Stakeholders in the ERRI include: the Association of Vehicle Recovery Operators, London Association of Recovery Operators, Road Haulage Association Recovery Section and the Institute of Vehicle Recovery as well as operators such as the AA, Mondial, AXA Rescue, Britannia Rescue, RAC and Green Flag.

Taken from