Science Inventory

THE IMPACT OF THE CONGESTION CHARGING SCHEME ON AIR QUALITY IN LONDON

Impact/Purpose:

The study of the London Congestion Charging Scheme (CCS), conducted by Professor Frank Kelly and colleagues, was funded under HEI’s research program aimed at measuring the possible health impacts associated with actions taken to improve air quality. With this research program, HEI has sought to (1) fund studies to assess the health outcomes associated with regulatory and incentive-based actions to improve air quality at local or national levels, and (2) develop methods required for, and specifically suited to, conducting such research.

The CCS offered an unusual opportunity to investigate the potential impact on air quality of a discrete and well-defined intervention to reduce traffic congestion in the middle of a major city. The CCS was implemented in London in February 2003 with the primary aim of reducing traffic congestion by charging vehicles to enter the central part of London, defined as the congestion charging zone (CCZ). In an earlier study based on data from the first year of the scheme, members of the investigative team had reported early findings of modest reductions in the number of vehicles entering the zone and had projected declines of about 12% in emissions of both PM10 (particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of #10 μm) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) within the CCZ. Recognizing that these projected reductions, coupled with the small area represented by the CCZ within Greater London, could lead to relatively small changes in air quality, the HEI Health Research Committee recommended that the investigators first assess the actual changes in air quality and postpone their proposal to study health impacts until the air quality studies were completed. The investigators proposed a multifaceted approach to exploring the impact of the CCS on air quality, which involved a variety of modeling techniques, analysis of air monitoring data, and a newly developed assay for the oxidative potential of PM.

The study of the London Congestion Charging Scheme (CCS), conducted by Professor Frank Kelly and colleagues, was funded under HEI’s research program aimed at measuring the possible health impacts associated with actions taken to improve air quality. With this research program, HEI has sought to (1) fund studies to assess the health outcomes associated with regulatory and incentive-based actions to improve air quality at local or national levels, and (2) develop methods required for, and specifically suited to, conducting such research.

The CCS offered an unusual opportunity to investigate the potential impact on air quality of a discrete and well-defined intervention to reduce traffic congestion in the middle of a major city. The CCS was implemented in London in February 2003 with the primary aim of reducing traffic congestion by charging vehicles to enter the central part of London, defined as the congestion charging zone (CCZ). In an earlier study based on data from the first year of the scheme, members of the investigative team had reported early findings of modest reductions in the number of vehicles entering the zone and had projected declines of about 12% in emissions of both PM10 (particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of #10 μm) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) within the CCZ. Recognizing that these projected reductions, coupled with the small area represented by the CCZ within Greater London, could lead to relatively small changes in air quality, the HEI Health Research Committee recommended that the investigators first assess the actual changes in air quality and postpone their proposal to study health impacts until the air quality studies were completed. The investigators proposed a multifaceted approach to exploring the impact of the CCS on air quality, which involved a variety of modeling techniques, analysis of air monitoring data, and a newly developed assay for the oxidative potential of PM.

Description:

The modeling studies predicted small changes in both emissions and ambient concentrations of NOx, NO2, and PM10 across London that could be related to the implementation of the CCS, although the effects within the CCZ were projected to be more pronounced than elsewhere. They projected somewhat larger average reductions (about 20%) in NOx and PM10 emissions than the 12% reductions that had been predicted in the initial feasibility studies that preceded the CCS. However, the difference in these projections may partly be explained by the fact that the modeling in this study compared the 2 years before and 2 years after the introduction of the CCS, whereas the earlier estimates had been based on an analysis of only the first year of the scheme (2003). The investigators reported that unusual meteorologic conditions had led to periods of elevated pollution levels in London during that year.

Despite the somewhat larger projected reductions in emissions, the projected changes in concentrations of NOx, NO2, and PM10 related to the CCS were small. Within the CCZ, the investigators projected a net decline of 1.7 ppb in the annual average mean NOx concentration and a decline of 0.8 μg/m3 in PM10. The modeling also suggested that a major proportion of PM10 might be accounted for by regional background levels, but that contributions from tire and brake wear might also be important. NO2 was projected to increase slightly, by 0.3 ppb on average; the investigators attributed this increase to higher NO2 emissions associated with the introduction of particle traps on diesel buses as part of Transport for London’s improvements in the public transport system.

From their comparison of actual air pollutant measurements within the CCZ with those at control sites in Outer London, the investigators reported little evidence of CCS-related changes in pollutant levels at roadside monitoring sites, where their modeling had suggested the most pronounced effects would be seen. The effects of the CCS were more evident at urban background sites within the CCZ when compared with concentrations at sites in the control area: PM10 concentrations declined by 12% at the one background site in the CCZ where it was measured, and NO declined by between 10% and 25% at the three background sites where it was measured. However, levels of NO2 increased by between 2% and 20% at the three background sites compared with levels at the control sites; these increases were consistent with the predictions from the modeling studies and with the likely effects of the parallel intervention that introduced more filter-equipped diesel buses. The investigators concluded that the small net changes in NOx detected at both roadside and background monitoring sites — likely resulting from reductions in NO offset by increases in NO2 — did not provide strong evidence of an impact of the CCS.

In the study of the oxidative potential of PM10, the investigators were unable to identify a temporal, CCSrelated change during the 6-year period that encompassed the implementation of the scheme. However, the city-wide spatial analysis of oxidative potential revealed that PM10 sampled from roadside locations showed greater oxidative activity than PM10 sampled at urban background sites.

When they coupled these spatial analyses of oxidative potential with analyses of the metal content of PM10 from the same filters, the investigators concluded that their results provided suggestive evidence that PM10 derived from tire and brake wear (indicated by the presence of the metals arsenic, barium, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, and vanadium) might contribute to the oxidative potential of PM seen in filters from roadside monitoring sites. However, the investigators noted that correlations among the concentrations of PM10 attributed to exhaust and to tire and brake wear made it difficult to isolate how much these individual sources might contribute to the oxidative potential of PM10. Their other experimental findings suggested that the non-metal components of PM10 did not contribute substantially to oxidative potential in this assay, but the investigators could not rule out a role for all other non-metal components of ambient air pollution.

Overall, the investigators concluded that their primary and exploratory analyses collectively suggested that the introduction of the CCS in 2003 was associated with small temporal changes in air pollutant concentrations within the CCZ compared with those in control areas thought to be beyond the influence of the scheme. In addition, they observed that a number of limitations, including concurrent changes in transportation and emission control policies, unusual meteorologic conditions the year the scheme was introduced, and the influence of strong local sources on particular monitors, would preclude them from attributing these changes to the CCS alone. They also acknowledged that the area covered by the CCS — approximately 1.4% of Greater London — was likely too small to influence air pollutant levels substantially either within or outside the zone.

Record Details:

Record Type: PROJECT (ABSTRACT)
Start Date: 04/01/2010
Completion Date: 03/31/2015
Record ID: 258325

Organization:

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

NATIONAL CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH