Drivers still don’t know who is going to face major tolls under the Newcastle Clean Air Zone (CAZ), city bosses have been warned.
Less than two months away from the first anti-pollution charges being issued under the new scheme, there are concerns that many motorists are confused about the fees.
All private cars and motorbikes will be exempt from the tolls – instead, only certain older, high-polluting vehicles that do not comply with modern emissions standards will be affected.
Non-compliant lorries, buses and coaches will be hit with £50-a-day tolls, while the worst polluting vans and taxis will be charged £12.50 per day.
Most of the tolls will come into force on January 30, but van and LGV drivers have been given a reprieve until July 2023.
But, with only weeks to go before the city centre CAZ launches, fears have been aired about the public’s understanding of the scheme.
Lib Dem councillor Philip Hall warned on Friday that there is a “serious gap” in knowledge among car drivers worried about tolls that they will actually not have to pay.
Signs were installed around the city in October to warn motorists about the impending changes, but have been criticised for not making clear which vehicles will be charged.
Cllr Hall told council bosses at the authority’s audit committee on Friday: “You have pointed out that private cars are not included in the Clean Air Zone, but I do not believe that has got through to the public at large.
“I am almost certain of that because every single person who has spoken to me about the CAZ has spoken to me on the assumption that it is going to include private cars.
“It is always me, as someone who knows because I come here [the civic centre] so often, that is correcting them on that assumption.”
Road signs already placed around the CAZ simply tell drivers “charges apply, pay online”, while the January 30 date has been advertised on electronic road signs on busy routes around the region.
Cllr Hall added: “The signs say that a CAZ is coming, but only that. It is about making sure each communication channel has enough to point people in the right direction. I don’t know how, but I think that is possibly where a lot of this [confusion] has come from – those signs, which are the most visible aspect of the information to people.”
Last week, the council said it was sending out letters to 3,507 vehicle owners whose taxi, bus, coach or HGV does not meet CAZ emissions standards and will be required to pay a toll to drive into the city centre from the end of January.
Transport chiefs say that only a small percentage of vehicles will be affected – with the vast majority of more than 417,000 spotted by the CAZ’s cameras in October being compliant with the rules.
Michelle Percy, the council’s director of place, told Cllr Hall that the communications around the CAZ were reviewed daily but were unlikely to ever reach 100% of the population.
She said: “The complexity of understanding a CAZ is that it is different across the country and you pick up national press against the regional press… if we are not able to get the message across then we have to keep improving how are doing that, it is not enough just to point to the website.”
Ms Percy added: “The [electronic] signs do change and talk about who is going to be charged and who isn’t. But I drive past them and they change so quickly… you have to be in a standing position to read it.”
The CAZ is being introduced in response to a Government order for local councils to bring down illegal levels of roadside emissions and will cover most of Newcastle city centre, including the Tyne, Swing, High Level and Redheugh bridges.
The charges had been due to start this summer, having already been delayed from January 2021.
Drivers can check if their vehicle is compliant with the CAZ standards at gov.uk/clean-air-zones.
Full details of exemptions from the charges and vehicle upgrade grants are also available here.