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A breath of fresh air – The UK’s first Zero Emission Zone

Britain’s first Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) pilot, created by Oxfordshire County Council and Conduent Transportation, went live in Oxford on 28th February 2022. Not only was this the first of its kind in the country, but it also broke the mould of how we use data to implement change. In an article published in January 2019, Oxfordshire County Council highlighted the need for tackling air pollution and set out their proposed journey to zero emissions. The authority called out nitrogen dioxide as the local air pollutant of most concern in Oxford, and the only pollutant for which European limits continue to be breached in the city. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants warn there is no safe level of nitrogen dioxide.

A 2016 report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found that outside air pollution – of which about 75% comes from road traffic in Oxford – cuts short 40,000 lives a year in the UK.

In 2017, significant decreases of nitrogen dioxide levels were observed in the city centre, although several monitored locations in the city still registered levels above the legal limit.

Oxfordshire County Council has been focusing on ways to reduce air pollution levels within the city, having already implemented a low emission zone for buses in 2014 and secured government funding to install cleaner bus engines. The ZEZ pilot and its expansion into a larger area offers the opportunity to ensure a further reduction in air pollution levels.

The system operates by collecting vehicle registration mark data via Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras of vehicles entering the ZEZ and checking the vehicles emissions output (via multiple databases) against the rules set by the scheme to determine if a charge is payable.

The scheme is the first to use emissions data as a key driving factor focusing on the number of grams per kilometre (g/km) of CO2 produced by each vehicle, not solely relying on the vehicle class or engine type. Rather than doing a simple look-up for the details of one vehicle, Conduent’s system compares the initial DVLA data to the engine type and uses much deeper logic, based on what is known about the vehicle, to determine whether the emissions data is correct.  The system applies additional look-ups from multiple sources in order to build a complete picture of the vehicle, rather than just relying on one data source.  

The perfect partnership

Conduent Transportation worked in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) to design a logical vehicle checker that considers data from multiple sources such as Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), Ministry of Transport (MOT) and the UK Vehicle Data service (UKVD) to ensure the most accurate data is obtained. The system will also consider permit and exemption data enabling the authority to apply a charging structure that takes into consideration each user's needs.

User experience was at the heart of the development, working closely with the authority’s user experience team, the system was built using a tailored public journey based on the need of the customer to minimise impact on road users and ensure the highest standard of user experience.

Conduent Transportation integrated Oxfordshire County Council’s user experience and technical team into its own technical team to collaborate on system requirements and how to develop the product.  The process included wireframes which were provided by the council and weekly workshops which allowed for an iterative design process.

This close working partnership not only helped refine the system but also allowed Conduent to fully understand the challenges that the council experienced both locally, and challenges the council experienced with data. It highlighted just how flexible the solution needed to be to overcome very specific data challenges. 

The collaboration allowed Conduent Transportation to design the solution to have a far more comprehensive look-up process than they otherwise would have been able to develop, had they not had the benefit of the iterative approach that the partnership provided.  

Unlocking the potential for Clean Air Neighbourhoods

As Conduent’s system is designed to carry out logical searches from multiple sources, it can also be used to facilitate schemes such as Clean Air Zones (CAZ), Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), and School Streets, as well as other healthy neighbourhood schemes. Seamlessly tying together transport and parking solutions enables authorities to have a holistic approach to achieving their clean transport strategies and provides the flexibility to layer multiple approaches, ensuring the best solutions are achieved in each area.