Our journey begins with education and communication

Poor air quality is a health crisis for which the traffic and parking industry can provide effective remedies, writes Ashley Bijster at Imperial Civil Enforcement Solutions

Ashley Bijster

September 09, 2022

Ashley Bijster

Ashley Bijster

Ashley Bijster

It is increasingly clear that we have failed in communication and education relating to air quality and broader climate concerns, as evidenced by the challenges faced in implementing climate change initiatives. fresh air.

Public opposition is running high amid accusations that such schemes are just a way to tax motorists. Meanwhile, the NHS is struggling under the burden of a growing air quality crisis. The UK recently experienced a heatwave that included wildfires that destroyed 41 properties in London.

If we want to remedy this situation, we must be on the same page as to how to proceed. I believe the journey begins with education and communication.

The new air quality crisis

How can we still talk about this, seven years after the UK Supreme Court ruled that the government must take immediate action to reduce air pollution? Or to put it in more human terms, nine years have passed since the tragic death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah.

However, the problems are piling up. Poor air quality is the biggest threat to environmental health in the UK, with outdoor pollutants estimated to cause 40,000 extra premature deaths and 20,000 extra hospital admissions a year – a huge burden on our NHS already fragile.

Meanwhile, the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants concluded that air pollution is likely to increase the risk of dementia; and evidence from Italy suggests an association between nitrogen dioxide and COVID-19 mortality.

As if the above weren’t enough, climatologists are warning that recent unprecedented heat waves are just a taste of what’s to come. Despite this, car travel has largely returned to pre-COVID levels, while the transition to clean air has stalled in the most depressing way: stuck in a political “arm wrestling” while residents that local and central governments are elected to serve the health consequences suffer.

We have legislation and we have proven technological solutions. We must be allowed to use them.

Manage the conversation

We know that Clean Air Zones work: just look at examples like London, Birmingham or Oxford. And having worked closely on the implementation in Birmingham, I have seen firsthand the importance of preparation and communication.

The Birmingham Clean Air Zone has been backed by extensive public consultation – not just resident consultation; it also covered people entering the city for work, thus including a greater proportion of those affected. This consultation was followed by a major and highly visible communication campaign, Brum Breathes, which raised awareness in the community of the changes taking place, the reasons for doing so and the expected results.

Birmingham’s implementation was a great example of thinking through and resolving potential issues – and therefore very effective in terms of preparing the public for the changes ahead, including vehicle upgrades.

Brum Breathes is underway today, more than a year after the Clean Air Zone went live, including the release of an interim report showing that air quality is already starting to improve, with an average reduction of 13% in NO2 levels in the area.

Clean Air Implementations and Challenges

There are a few issues here, however. First, it is worth noting the differences between Clean Air Zones as implemented in England and Low Emission Zones in Scotland.

The Scottish model is arguably more efficient as it not only charges motorists for using polluting vehicles; it prevents them from entering the area. This model has a greater impact on air quality and avoids accusations and perceptions that Clean Air Zones are simply revenue-generating programs for local authorities.

But perhaps the biggest problem is the fact that exhaust emissions are only part of the problem. Emissions Analytics reported that tire and brake wear emissions can be 1,000 times worse than those from the tailpipe – and of course are not addressed by a clean air or low emissions zone.

Granted, these areas are pretty blunt tools for the job. It is therefore important not to provide them in isolation, but as part of a wider range of support mechanisms. Public transport and mobility hubs should be at the heart of this.

Clean air and public transport: a holistic solution

Clean air zones and low emission zones should be implemented alongside a wider shift to public transport and shared mobility services – and indeed I have written before about the potential of mobility hubs , which I think could be transformational. But public transport also remains fundamental to the changes we need to make.

Driven by rising fuel costs and concerns over air quality and carbon emissions, there are currently some incredibly exciting developments in the public transport space, particularly in heavily subsidized public transport. , even totally free.

Luxembourg has offered free public transport for some time, while Spain, Germany and Austria now offer heavily subsidized services. Meanwhile, New Zealand has reduced or abolished public transport fares for a three-month period in response to the fuel cost crisis.

Perhaps investment in public transport services and infrastructure would have been a more effective response than the reduction in fuel tax of 5 pence per liter in the UK, which barely registered given the continuous rise in prices.

Technology: potential and limits

As Imperial’s Managing Director, I certainly believe that technology has a major role to play in the journey to cleaner air and lower carbon emissions. As we have proven in Birmingham and other cities, the technology already exists to support this transition.

Birmingham has shown the importance of permit solutions, managing exemptions for exempt and low-emission vehicles, and for residents or exceptional circumstances – for example, visitors to a hospital in the area.

But the technology isn’t just about clean air zones; we can monitor air quality, manage school streets, low traffic neighborhoods and more. And by working in collaboration with the supply chain, authorities can take advantage of the full range of existing solutions, delivering maximum impact with minimum risk and cost.

And yet, technology can do so much more. I recently came across an organization that uses real-time air quality data; this kind of information has enormous potential – we can use it to proactively steer people toward safe and healthy travel choices, while increasing education and awareness about this critical issue. Local authorities should adopt this type of information because they have a direct responsibility for the health of citizens, and this is not currently taken into account.


I am proud to lead a company active in this field. I know the power of the technology we provide, both in terms of what we have achieved and what we can do in the future. But at the same time, it’s clear that we can’t just “tech out” of this crisis. For too long we have seen governments working in silos making decisions that do not solve the problem: implementing road closures that only move a problem elsewhere; creating choke points for slow moving vehicles that we know are worse in terms of air quality.

We need better education and communication from central and local government. We should celebrate our successes locally and nationally; and our local press should highlight the issues, the healthy choices we can all make, and describe what the community can do together to improve the situation.
We are all in this crisis together and we need holistic solutions with real common thinking. Here, success depends on communication and public education. Technology will help, but first we need to unite.

The author

Ashley Bijster is Managing Director at Imperial Civil Enforcement Solutions. With over 20 years of experience in outsourcing, law enforcement and smart city technologies, she is a widely respected figure within the industry. She was elected President of the British Parking Association in 2014 and regularly speaks at industry conferences and seminars. With her knowledge of the law enforcement, environmental and traffic management industries, she has helped solidify the company’s position as one of the most progressive, innovative and responsive operations in his domain.

Imperial Civil Enforcement Solutions is a UK parking, environmental and traffic management systems provider with over 30 years experience of providing fully integrated IT and case processing solutions to public authorities, universities, hospitals and private contractors. The Imperial team brings a combination of industry knowledge, technology skills and experience from a number of successful service partnerships; provide the capability, experience and expertise to deliver integrated law enforcement solutions.

This article was produced in partnership with Imperial Civil Enforcement Solutions