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AirPublic co-founder Hannah Gardiner talks about the need for progressive and radical policies to improve air quality, especially in transportation

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SPEAKER: The main drivers of air pollution in cities is transport. That’s not necessarily the case in other places or in necessarily other countries. In some countries indoor air pollution from cooking is a really big issue. In this country, certainly in cities, transport is a major issue.
You have people’s own personal transport, which comes down to lots and lots of people making a different decision every day but that’s very hard to make it happen. It comes down to stuff being transported. We’re now in the age of the internet. You have delivery consolidations, electric delivery, trucks, these kind of things are definitely the way forward.
Then you have obviously public transport emissions. If everyone was using public transport it would be better because we would have less vehicles on the road. However, again, this is like a fleet where there’s a lot of scope for potentially updating things that could and should be done. You do also have emissions from boilers. For example, in New York that’s significant compared to here. Heating can be a thing but definitely in cities, in the UK, I think 60% is caused from transport.
Since Clientearth first took the government to court and won their court case, which was early 2015 they have since produced two plans. I think they did a third one this year. Every time it’s been declared to be not good enough. The last plan once again showed very little leadership passed most of the responsibility down to a local level. Individual choices in local circumstances are important but it’s driven by massive companies, like delivery companies are global. Car companies are selling cars are global. It’s not a local problem in that sense.
It’s localized and anyway the way it needs to be dealt with is different in each place. The overarching drivers, the companies that are selling these vehicles, making these deliveries, they are global. I think that you need so much more leadership on a wider level in order to be able to try and deal with that.
Mobility is going to change. It’s just going to change. The technology is coming. It’s here. It’s being tested. It’s just about how it’s going to be widespread implemented. For example, in Norway you now have 35% of people using electric cars. That was due to some progressive policy around vehicle taxation, around clever investment in infrastructure to insure that they were charging ports everywhere so that people could make that transfer without worrying about where they were going to charge. Some of those things could happen here. That would help a lot.
In terms of people’s decisions themselves, that’s more tricky and I think it’s going to be generational. Cars being a status symbol, the convenience of moving in that way, I think once you’re in it it’s very hard to change. I think that the next generation coming in and other people who, the expected trends is like shared ownership instead of owning things yourself, it’s convenience to be looked at in a completely different way. That’s such a mindset. I think it’s going to be hard for people who have done the same thing for 20 or 30 years.
In terms of policy the national planning and policy framework needs to take air pollution into account more because what needs to happen is people need to make different decisions. Businesses need to do business differently. You need the infrastructure to back it up. The national planning and policy framework taking air pollution more seriously would be a good start towards shaping that infrastructure.
Certainly where there are new buildings being built it should be taken into account whether they’re creating canyons, how many cars are coming in because of that, where are they going to go? Yeah, so I think in terms of policy maybe the national planning and policy framework is a good place to start and then consolidating deliveries would be amazing and is totally possible.
There’s been a big project across the south London boroughs, between seven boroughs, of experimenting with delivery consolidation for council deliveries. They’ve had a massive success rate. I think it was something like 90% reduction through this scheme. They’re now trying to roll it out to businesses. This is something that can be done easily. I guess the challenge is what happens to all the delivery people that are currently doing those delivery jobs if that’s the case. It’s not an easy one.
I think that Sadiq Khan has potential. He’s certainly shown to take more of an interest than the last mayor. When he first came into office there was a protest about air pollution that got canceled due to him starting to move on things like the T charge. I think these are steps in the right direction. He hasn’t done enough. And there’s certainly still groups that I’ve talked to in places like London where they’re trying to object to planning applications on the basis of air pollution. The mayor does have powers to step into these kind of affairs and he has chosen not to. I think he could do more. He could be taking more of an active stance.
I’m guessing in his position he has to make a balance between keeping the businesses happy and doing things for the people, which is a shame and that often happens with politicians. That’s maybe why he’s got a bit of a muddied stance in the water. I think things like trying to introduce the T charge shows that he has the intention. I know that he developed asthma as an adult. He had late onset asthma that he developed as an adult which is probably one reason that he personally is interested in it.
Yeah, I think with the sensors on buses I think it should happen and I hope it can happen. Yeah, that’s again, at the moment something that probably rests with TFL. Although, again, it’s something the mayor could step into if he chose too. Same with the planning applications. He could step into them. He just has to choose to do it.
In terms of data for air pollution, London is actually one of the best monitored in the world. Even so, there’s only 150 monitoring stations in the whole of the greater London area. Even though some of them get out of commission not all of them monitor all the different air pollutants. Councils in some cases can voluntarily choose to use diffusion tubes to top up the amount of data that’s available. That’s quite costly. They have to change them every month. That’s people time, that’s buying equipment. It’s not ideal.
On a granular level, the way that it works at the moment is you have all of these 150 stations and they take readings and every hour the readings get averaged out and then the map is divided into squares. Then as the readings are averaged out those squares move up or down depending on the readings. Using a complex emissions modeling algorithm model that was created I think with Cambridge University and King’s College London over the last 25 years, which was fine, but it doesn’t really show up all the hotspots. It doesn’t really show up what’s going on.
When I was working for London Sustainability Exchange and we were doing diffusion tube monitoring with community groups we were showing up where there were hotspots that weren’t showing up with the modeled data. I think the data we have now has been okay for showing that there’s a general problem in trying to highlight the issue.
I think for enacting solutions and understanding in more detail about where the problem comes from there’s definitely more that could be done. Like I said, London is the best monitored in the world. In Manchester you have 17 monitors in the whole of the greater Manchester area. In the center of Manchester you have two only. How are you going to know very much from that?
We started in 2015. At that time there wasn’t really anyone doing mobile sensors. Since then there has been. We met lots of people at that time who were also starting out with this idea. We have developed a unit, which fits onto vehicles. Although, we’re kind of agnostic. At the moment we’ve done a trial on 10 electric delivery vehicles. We would like to put it, for example, on bikes or on buses, any kind of moving agent.
What we think is that some people are trying to make these into consumer products, which is fine. That’s great. All the sensors are better. More sensors are better. All the sensors. Great. Let’s have as many as possible. Personally, we think that if you want to measure efficiently the most efficient and effective way to do this is rather than giving it to someone that’s going to go from their house to their work, from their house to their work, is to put it on fleets like buses, things that are moving around the city constantly. You’re going to get a constant source of randomized granular data across the city’s landscape.
Yeah, we did one trial with 10 electric delivery vehicles at the beginning of 2017. The results were really good. Even with 10 vehicles we were able to get an amazing granular coverage of data. At the moment we’re just pushing forward to see how we can get this on more vehicles, talking to different people so we can try to give a better granular picture.
We want to enable citizens, get citizens to have access to this but we also want to enable decision-makers where they’re having to make tough decisions because what needs to happen? All vehicles need to be electric. That infrastructure is expensive to put in. It’s going to take a long time. Where do you put it first? Where are the most urgent things? When you start doing it there’s so many solutions like filters for exhausts. There’s so many different solutions that are being on offer. How do you actually know which ones that you’re trialing are working better? This is the kind of information that we need to move forward.

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