Cities and towns should hold off on introducing low emissions driving zones until their impacts on air quality and mobility are better understood, insurer group Touring said.
“We call on authorities to properly assess whether the sacrifices that the LEZ can represent for some people are proportionate to the benefits they bring,” Touring spokesperson Lorenzo Stefani said.
The effects of a LEZ on the air quality of a given city should be studied in a more precise and comprehensive way and account for other sources of air pollution, he added.
A number of cities in Belgium have introduced a LEZ in recent years, in the image of Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp, putting restrictions on highly polluting vehicles from entering designated areas in the cities.
But others, like Leuven or Mechelen, have remained wary of following suit, with Stefani saying that for the LEZ to be more successful, regulations should be harmonised between cities, especially in a country the size of Belgium.
Additionally, viable transport alternatives should also be developed simultaneously, such as a more secure cycling network and an efficient public transport system.
“As long as the functioning and the impacts are not clear, and as long as there are no viable alternatives, a LEZ is more akin to an anti-vehicle policy than an environmental policy,” he said.
In Rotterdam, authorities announced they would be scrapping their LEZ from January after a majority of the city’s drivers swapped to less polluting vehicles, with many applying for a government-sponsored premium in exchange for giving up their old car.
But in Belgium a lack of a coordinated approach and the fact that people highly dependant on their car are not sufficiently taken into account meant rolling out more low emissions zones could be “do more harm than good.”
The impact that clearing roads of highly polluting vehicles had on air quality was dwarfed in cities like Antwerp or Rotterdam, Stefani said, where major industrial ports still pumped pollutants and emissions into the air, or by poorly-heated buildings in cities like Brussels.