Whilst London taxi drivers talk about electric vehicles and the move away from current diesel cabs, a different cleaner fuel source has re-emerged to possibly help make the transition quicker for some. In the lead up to Christmas you could be forgiven if you missed City Hall’s change in direction on LPG. In fact London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced he would offer a limited number of LPG conversion grants available to drivers of Euro 5 taxis to support the shift to cleaner vehicles. The LPG grants are due to become open to applicants this month. According to Autogas Limited, a UK wide company that specialises in turning diesel taxis into LPG green machines, the fuel helps reduce Particulate Matter by 99% and cut NOx by 80%. Whilst LPG offers less drastic changes to CO2 emissions, a reduction of 7% respectively, the taxis converted to LPG would meet Euro 6 vehicle standards. This would mean all taxis would meet the current strict emission rulings despite their age. Further benefits highlighted by the firm include a low initial investment (it costs roughly £10,000 to convert) as taxi drivers can keep their existing vehicle, lower maintenance costs compared to the diesel, and also substantial 20-30% lower fuel costs. Autogas also claim that transition from diesel to LPG is made easier by the robust existing refuelling infrastructure and offers a 300 – 400 mile driving range.
LPG has long been around in the industry, but never fully supported by past London Mayors. In fact, Sadiq Khan himself was strongly against the fuel only last year.
Back in March 2018 Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon probed the London Mayor at City Hall’s public monthly question time, directly asking him how he would provide support to the taxi industry for the roll out of more LPG vehicles in the capital. The response from Sadiq Khan was a definite and defiant no to any help. Khan said liquid petroleum gas did offer some potential carbon dioxide savings over petrol, but limited air quality benefits. The key goal for the mayor was clear; zero-emissions, not interim improvements. Caroline Pidgeon highlighted London could benefit from following in the footsteps of Birmingham whilst in a transitional period moving towards Khan’s 100% zero-emissions vision. The Midlands city was awarded £500,000 from the Department for Transport in 2014 which was used to convert 80 diesel taxis to use LPG. The project saw big reductions in nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate materials (PMs) levels. In response the mayor said: “We would encourage manufacturers to realise there is a market there for zero-emission capable taxis. We have the grant scheme. We are assisting those additionally with taxis between 10 and 15 years. I would not want our priorities to be focused - or monies, more importantly - towards LPG.” But that’s all changed just months later. The take-up of existing offers to delicense older diesels was low, with only around £450,000 of a multimillion pound fund used. There also seems to be a realisation that drivers with a diesel Euro 5 vehicle still rightfully have multiple years left to operate the taxi in London. These cabs will slow down Khan’s vision of 100% zero-emission transport in the near future. LPG offers the interim measures to at least move the fleet away from diesel quicker.
With the threat of taxi age limits dropping from fifteen years to twelve looming, Euro 5 owners may see LPG as the perfect solution. Is 2019 finally the year for LPG to make it’s mark in London? It could well be.