I joined Matt Newell from the London Cab Drivers Club (LCDC) on a tour of London’s pollution hotspots today, using a Chinese made handheld pollution monitor (measuring PM2.5). I wanted to get a realistic picture of what pollution is like for the people who have to put up with air pollution in order to make a living. The taxi trade has become increasingly concerned about the impacts of air pollution in recent years on the health of drivers, their passengers, and the Londoners they serve.
The Egg measures the tiny particles of grit called PM2.5 which are now seen as a much more significant health risk than they were ten years ago, when all the focus was on reducing the larger PM10s. The levels were never less than twice the advisory limit set by the European Union and often went much higher than that. This wasn’t a scientific test, but levels inside the cab did not seem higher than outside, which sounds reassuring until you remember that there is no ‘safe’ level of pollution. The passengers don’t suffer the accumulative effect of constant, low-level pollution which the drivers have every working day, of every week, over many decades.
There were also worrying spikes as we sat amongst a load of buses, or went round Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Hyde Park Corner. The biggest pollution spike was the Euston underpass which was five times the advisory limit, but outside Euston Station was nearly four times, as was the Madam Tussauds bit of Marylebone Road. My overall impression was that air pollution impacts on the health of everyone, including the well-off residents around Kensington High Street, but it must inevitably have the biggest accumulative impact on those cabbies and bus drivers whose job it is to move us around London and make the city work.
New zero emission vehicles are being made available, which will reduce air pollution for millions of Londoners. The Government should do more to help the early adopters of these zero emission taxis by loading the subsidy to encourage drivers to act quickly and pick up a bargain. This new generation of taxis are a big investment and it is right that the taxpayer helps struggling cabbies to do the right thing. It is essential for solving our public health crisis in London.
The European Union says that Member States are expected to ensure that the annual average concentration of PM2.5 does not exceed 25 µg/m3. These are the key results from the tour:
It never fell below twice the advisory limit for any of the journey.
Parliament Square 68
Trafalgar Square (standing amongst the buses) 86
Kensington High Street 78
Madam Tussauds, Marylebone Road 91
Euston underpass 121
Euston Station 93