Why dirty old trucks should be banned from our big cities - Grattan Institute

We all like well-stocked shelves at the supermarket, and parcels delivered to our door. We enjoy using DIY and gardening equipment that has been carried on the back of trucks.

But nobody likes the fact that children breathe in the toxic air pollution that spews from the exhaust pipes of trucks. 

There’s not much that parents can do to protect their children if the air in the schoolyard or the local park is dirty. 

That’s why we should ban the dirtiest trucks from Sydney.

The latest report from the Grattan Institute shows how imposing a ‘low-emission zone’ for trucks would help reduce the risk of childhood and adolescent asthma.

And because air pollution also increases people’s risk of heart disease, strokes, and cancer, the ban would benefit all Sydneysiders.

Low-emission zones ban the most-polluting trucks from densely-populated areas. Hundreds of cities around the world have introduce low-emission zones – London, Edinburgh, Tokyo, Beijing, and all through Europe.

Low-emission zones reduce average levels of air pollution and the number of dangerous pollution `peaks’. 

Although trucks are only 3 per cent of Australia’s vehicles, they create about 25 per cent of transport-related air pollution. This is probably responsible for at least 400 deaths in Australia each year. And the dirtiest, most-polluting trucks are old trucks. 

Trucks sold before 1996 did not have to meet any pollution standards. They emit at least 60 times more dangerous particulate matter than a truck manufactured after 2011, and about eight times as much poisonous nitrogen oxide (NOx).

Trucks sold between 1996 and 2002 met pollution standards that are woefully inadequate compared to limits on modern trucks, and emit about 20 times the particulate matter and nearly four times the NOx. 

About 20 per cent of Sydney’s trucks were sold before 2003. The NSW government should introduce a low-emission zone to keep these trucks away from people. 

It might surprise Sydneysiders to discover that air pollution is a problem in their city – after all, the skies are usually pretty clear. But air pollution contains a cocktail of invisible gases, solids, and liquids, and even very low levels of air pollution do damage. The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns there is no `safe’ level of exposure. 

As well as asthma, air pollution causes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and lung cancer.  Some pollutants are small enough to enter people’s bloodstream, and long-term exposure can contribute to coronary heart disease, strokes, bladder cancer, and type-2 diabetes. 

Children are especially vulnerable. Air pollution increases the risk of low birth weight, childhood leukaemia, and other childhood cancers. It can cause life-long damage to children’s lungs. 

The more we learn about air pollution, the worse it gets. WHO has progressively revised down its recommended maximum-exposure levels, and scientists are using new technologies to study the tiniest, and most dangerous, ultra-fine particulates. 

All Sydneysiders should be concerned. 

Evidence from overseas shows that in suburbs with clean air, the pollution from a single dirty diesel truck can increase infant mortality rates and the risk of severe childhood asthma attacks.ads. 

We all benefit from cleaner air. But people will worry about the effects of a low-emission zone on small businesses. That’s why the NSW government should also introduce a truck replacement fund, to help owners replace their old trucks with newer models. 

It’s fair for the public to help businesses make a transition that will help all of us. But this doesn’t mean a free-for-all. Funds should be allocated through a tender, and taxpayers shouldn’t pay more than the health benefits of getting an old truck off the road. 

Sydneysiders want to enjoy well-stocked shelves, parcel deliveries, and weekend DIY. A low-emission zone would mean they could continue to enjoy these things, safe in the knowledge that the work is being done by cleaner, less harmful trucks.

Ingrid Burfurd

Senior Associate
Ingrid Burfurd is a Senior Associate in Grattan Institute’s Cities and Transport Program. Ingrid has a background in public policy and academic research, with experience in environmental, transport, and procurement policy. Her expertise is in designing markets for public goods.

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