IT’S one of Glasgow’s busiest road interchanges where Cathedral Street dovetails with the High Street before it approaches Scotland’s busiest motorway moving quickly in both directions.

For more than a year now a large sign has been telling drivers that they’ll be entering a Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) from June 1. This morning, though, on the day that LEZ went live, it appears that several didn’t quite get the message.

A Volvo estate has pulled up just short of the sign and tries to execute a multi-point turn that will take him away from the city. It may already be too late, though. He may just have crept over the boundary that now officially separates those who have found energy-efficient salvation from those living in the outer darkness of carbon emissions where there is wailing and grinding of gears.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras linked to a national vehicle licensing database will be used to enforce the city’s LEZ zone, an area bounded by the M8 to the north and west, the River Clyde to the south and High Street towards the east. The owners of non-compliant vehicles will be hit by a Penalty Charge Notice of £60 which will double for each subsequent transgression up to a cap of £480 for cars, and £960 for buses and HGVs.

READ MORE: Glasgow's low emission zone: Explained in five minutes

A curious dissonance is evident in the response to the imposition of the LEZ. All stakeholders, agencies and political parties are broadly in agreement that it’s necessary and vital. The centre of Glasgow still has high air pollution levels, though they are now within legal limits. Besides, it’s now merely implementing what dozens of other European cities have had in place for years.

Councillor Angus Millar, convener for Climate and Transport at Glasgow City Council says: “Poor air quality is actively harming Glaswegians' health; creating and exacerbating people's health conditions and the city's health inequalities, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable.”

Yet, what seems, on the face of it, to be a reasonable and proportionate measure has been met with a furious response by taxi-owners, and hospitality chiefs.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have also united to criticise the introduction of LEZ. It’s not that they oppose the need for such a measure; only that this Phase Two (buses have been subject to Phase One of LEZ for five years) should have been delayed one more year for those car-owners affected to make suitable arrangements.

The Herald: The Low Emission Zone is now liveThe Low Emission Zone is now live (Image: Colin Mearns)

They insist that, while this has been known about for more than five years, the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 and the ensuing cost-of-living crisis has made it difficult for the owners of older, non-compliant vehicles to meet the significant cost of upgrading them. Effectively, according to them, this is a tax on people on low incomes who can’t afford newer, LEZ-compliant vehicles. One veteran taxi-owner, who has been operating in and around Glasgow for more than 40 years, told me: “There’s already an existing shortage of taxi-drivers and this will force many others to jack it in. Ironically, because of this shortage, those drivers still in business are making more money during the day. This means they are far less likely to work through the night.

“The black hackney drivers are generally quite old – the youngest I know is 47 – and they’re at a stage in their lives where they don’t want an added burden of debt that comes with upgrading.”

As the taxi shortage prevails the damage to Glasgow’s vital night-time economy – already reeling from the effects of lockdown and the steep hikes in energy bills – will be significant. There are fears that the hospitality sector which provides jobs for many of the city’s most disadvantaged citizens will suffer massive cuts. The chronic shortage of taxis is already affecting the choices of young women when they head into the city centre for a weekend night out. Amy Rew, from the Glasgow Girls Club developed an app with Wise Women to collect the views and experiences of women about when and where they were experiencing harassment in public spaces in Glasgow.

“Many of the responses were from women who had encountered harassment on Sauchiehall Street,” she said. “As such, they were choosing to walk the back lanes to escape unwanted attention on the main streets.

READ MORE: LEZ prompts calls for 'decent' Glasgow public transport

“One of them told us of waiting a while to catch a bus and being pestered by a man who kept leaving and returning and making weird and unwelcome comments. Eventually she flagged down a taxi, even though she didn’t have enough money for the fare. Luckily, the very kind driver agreed to take her home anyway. But we work very closely with the city council in trying to make the city centre safer for young women.

“Yet, we’re all really passionate about climate activism because climate injustice disproportionately affects women throughout the world.”

There’s a widespread feeling too that while many other European cities have successfully adopted low emission zones they’ve also ensured that the wider transport infrastructure supported the smooth transition.

In Glasgow, a return bus ticket costs £5.10. And although saver tickets are priced at only £5.40 they’re not valid across all routes being serviced by the myriad private operators who flooded in after deregulation in 1986.

A report two years ago by the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice said that the privatisation of services had led to a “dysfunctional system that is slowly falling apart.”

The Herald: The Low Emission Zone is now liveThe Low Emission Zone is now live (Image: free)

It concluded that the bus infrastructure outside of London was a “broken system of fragmented services, disappearing routes, reduced frequency, poor reliability, falling ridership, limited coverage, inefficient competition, and poor information”.

The report called on the Scottish and UK Governments to “stop relying on private firms and market forces to determine access to such a vital service and instead argued that bus services should be under public sector control”.

The chaos of public transport in Glasgow has since been borne out by statistics revealed by The Herald last year which indicated that, in some areas, the use of public transport, was 50% down on pre-pandemic levels.

It also emerged that the Scottish Government's flagship bus partnership fund, launched in 2019, and aimed at providing bus priority measures to tackle climate change, had stalled with only £25.8m of its £500m budget having been spent.

Gareth Brown, Chair of Healthy Air Scotland is also policy and public affairs officer of Asthma and Lung UK Scotland. He has welcomed LEZ. “With one in five Scots developing a lung condition like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in their lifetime, for them, air pollution can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks and flare-ups.”

READ MORE: Glasgow air quality meets targets. Should LEZ be scrapped?

Yet, of itself, imposing a Low Emission Zone in the centre of Glasgow will barely make a difference. According to research by the University of Liverpool and Imperial College London, published in 2021, factors linked to poverty contributed significantly to a child developing life-long asthma.

Their report said that children living in disadvantaged circumstances – such as areas of deprivation, poor-quality or overcrowded housing and in households with addiction – were 70 per cent more likely to develop asthma severe enough to affect them on a daily basis. Nearly two-thirds of that risk is decided by a child’s experiences in the first three years of their life.

Glasgow’s bright, shiny Low Emissions Zone heralds a new dawn in the fight to make the city greener and more sustainable. But until it seriously addresses the long-standing problems of multi-deprivation in its most disadvantaged communities, many will feel that LEZ is little more than a performative caprice.