Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone will cost some HGV operators dearly, no matter what


If you run older HGVs in Oxford city centre, the introduction of the UK’s first Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) later this month (February 2022) could mean that you’ll need to find thousands of pounds to keep your business operating in the area!

The UK government has a long-term strategy to reduce carbon and nitrogen dioxide levels in travel and improve air quality across the country - specifically in targeted hotspots such as Oxford city centre. 

One of its weapons in this battle is to discourage, through penalising, the use of older, more polluting commercial vehicles. As a result, it has tasked some local authorities with introducing Clean Air Zones. 

Some CAZs went live in 2021 (for example; BathBirminghamPortsmouth and London’s extended Ultra Low Emissions Zone). More are scheduled to take effect later this year, including: BradfordBristolGreater ManchesterNewcastleSheffield and significantly, Oxford

The Oxford pilot scheme, however, goes further than other CAZs; it being the UK’s first ZEZ. The initial scheme will cover just nine streets and squares in the city centre and will apply from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week, all year round. It will be en-forced by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (APNR) cameras, which will record all vehicle movements in and out of the zone. 

In August 2025, however, the ZEZ will be extended to other parts of the city and will affect more of Oxford’s population of over 150,000 people and its thousands of businesses. 

No vehicles will be banned from accessing the zone, but it’s only zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) that won’t be charged. A zero-emission vehicle is one that doesn’t emit exhaust gas or other pollutants from its onboard source of power. Examples are fully electric vehicles or those powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. 

However, currently, all petrol and diesel vehicles, including hybrids, will have to pay a daily charge, unless they qualify for a 100% discount or exemption. 

Vehicles that meet the Euro 6 diesel standard will pay £4 per day from February, later rising to £8 in August 2025. Diesel-powered HGVs that don’t meet the Euro 6 standard will be charged £10 per day, rising to £20. 

If you’re operating older trucks in the centre of Oxford seven days a week, the new ZEZ could cost you £3,650 per truck per year, increasing to £7,300 within a few years! 

The pilot scheme charges might not seem much, but the ZEZ is set to expand in the future so, if you don’t prepare for the change and mitigate against the charges in good time, the financial impact on your business could be significant - yet more pressure on top of the double-whammy of Brexit and COVID-19, plus the economic effects of the forthcoming ban on red diesel in refrigerated transport, which comes into effect on April 1. 

Inevitably, rising costs on top of rising costs could be too much for some operators and some might go to the wall. Will you be one of them? 

The simple fact is that CAZs are already here and Oxford’s ZEZ, the first in the country, is not only imminent, but it’s also going to affect more and more businesses in the future. With other CAZs also going live across the country later this year, operators will be keeping a close eye on how the industry adapts to the changes. Those who do business in  multiple areas will have different  CAZs to deal with and their financial impact could be significant. 

Crucially, you need to make sure you don’t sleepwalk into the new charges and allow your profits to go up in smoke! 

As with any inevitable change, the best business strategy is to embrace it and use it to build yourself a strong, competitive and sustainable future. 

Here at Dawsongroup truck and trailer, we refresh and upgrade our fleet on an ongoing basis and have a continual flow of new vehicles on order and available for contract hire. We have more coming on stream in the next few months. 

With 100% of our fleet of around 4,000 diesel-powered tractor units, rigids and dropsides already meeting the current highest Euro 6 standards, we have availability and can offer affordable options to minimize your ZEZ charges. 

The underlying requirement for any operator is for maximum flexibility in both fleet operations and financial management – the kind of benefits we provide through our rental, leasing and contract hire services. 

Both offer economical and flexible options that provide certainty and include many of your ongoing vehicle-related costs. Most importantly, they provide vehicles that allow you to carry on your normal business in ZEZ areas with minimal cost and minimal impact on your capital investment. 

What’s more, acquiring vehicles in this way allows you to dispose of your old vehicles and invest any capital returns this generates into developing and growing other areas of your business. 

However, if replacing is your preferred option, why not sell your old vehicles and buy more up-to-date ones through our used sales business, Dawsondirect? 

Dawsondirect can also help you dispose of your assets that don’t meet Euro 6 standards. With values at an all-time high, there’s no better time to do that than now, but, again, time is of the essence as the market will inevitably change sometime in the future. 

CAZs and ZEZs are just one part of a bigger environmental landscape, which will take at least a few years to settle down. 

With the move to zero-emission HGVs firmly on the agenda and the transport sector’s road to zero picking up pace year on year, our contract hire services can also ease any concerns you might have about alternative-fuelled vehicles. 

At the moment, there’s no practical or feasible zero emissions solution in the HGV arena. The alternatives are to move to smaller, zero-emission ‘last mile’ vehicles or minimise your ZEZ charges by replacing heavily polluting vehicles with much more efficient equipment  

Regulations will continue to change and tighten, and technologies will continue to develop and improve. So, it’s difficult to make a compelling business case for greener vehicles right now, and you risk making big and costly mistakes. 

Do you stick with diesel for the time being or do you venture into gas or electric vehicles? What will become the dominant fuel? How will residual values hold up? Will alternative-fuelled vehicles have second or third lives after their first lease or period of ownership? 

With HGVs having relatively long lifespans and the 2035 and 2040 zero-emissions deadlines looming, how do you actually transition to a new kind of fleet? 

The likelihood is that, whatever decision you make today, you’ll most probably have obsolete assets on your hands a few years down the line. These are all real-world issues facing today’s commercial vehicle operator. 

We’re in the early stages in the journey towards lower emissions, and there’s a significant risk for operators at the lowest level of compliance - even after a very expensive retrofit, for example. The danger is that that they’ll be left behind when standards tighten further. 

However, backed by our expertise and support, you can trial ‘greener’ vehicles risk-free in your own business environment, comparing key factors such as initial cost, operational expenditure, performance and ease of refuelling, before committing to what’s right for your company. 

So, we’re already doing a lot of the hard work – investing in new technology, trialling new equipment from a range of manufacturers  and taking the associated risks – all so that you don’t have to. 

With rising costs and increasing pressure due to inflation, finances are also under greater scrutiny, but, through Dawsongroup finance, we can provide options that free up much-needed cash for your business. 

Everyone’s busy in these exceptional times, but you ought to make time to plan ahead and start a conversation with your supplier as soon as possible to discuss your options. 

We can help support and insulate your business through changes in legislation, and prevent literally thousands of pounds going up in smoke while, at the same time, play a part in bringing cleaner air to Oxford. 

Whichever way forward makes best sense for your operation, why not take a few minutes to contact me (johnbridge@dawsongroup.co.uk 07770 622175) to discuss how we can make our award-winning services, partnership approach and excellent customer service work for you? 

Alternatively, contact your nearest branch. It costs nothing. Do it now before the Oxford ZEZ kicks in later this month (February 2022) and is extended in 2025. 

You have nothing to lose except the endlessly rising costs of maintaining and adapting older vehicles and the real risk of racking up CAZ charges year after year.

John Bridge, Branch Sales Manager – Oxford, Dawsongroup truck and trailer 

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