Whenever I go to Glasgow to visit my uncle, David Kemp, I generally have the choice of driving or taking the train – but if I had driven today I would have incurred a £60 fine – the car I share with my grown up kids is 12 years old and doesn’t meet the standard for the city’s low emission zone that started yesterday, June 1.
In fact, I don’t usually drive – one reason is that I prefer the train, because I can work on it. And parking in the city centre costs more than the train fare by itself – if you can find a space. Two, I potentially avoid a tedious game of car hide and seek because someone forgot exactly where they left Silvia (she is a silver Vauxhall Corsa and is really good at blending in).
Third, the LEZ has made me more conscious of the emissions that I might produce on a long drive – and on that note, a big thank you to all the paid subscribers to this column. Each subscription brings me one step closer to changing Silvia for a car that complies with European Standard 4 – in time for Edinburgh’s LEZ next year.
I am glad I knew about the LEZ – which unlike others in the UK bans rather than charging the most polluting vehicles. It would be hard to not know about it though – the Scottish media has been broadcasting apocalyptic warnings from angry motorists for days. Having heard all these dire predictions, when I alighted at Queen Street station, I was expecting the silence of the cars – empty streets and tumbleweed blowing across George Square. In fact, I have to say, I couldn’t see much difference. Ingram St carpark was as full as ever, and there weren’t many spaces on the side streets either.
I collected David to take him to the Mary Quant exhibition at Kelvingrove Gallery. How easy would it be to get an Uber, I wondered, as I had read that many minicabs would be barred from the city. However, the app said a few minutes and it turned out to be quicker even than that. You can’t keep Uber divers waiting as it is a fixed fee, so I ended up flying down the stairs two at a time, carrying the binbags I was taking out.
Our driver Shamim said that he has noticed very little effect from the new zone. Business was steady, about the same as usual. “The council has been writing to private hire driver for months, telling them which cars don’t qualify.” Most were OK. Some drivers have had to upgrade, but they have had time to prepare. Petrol cars have to be less than about ten years old and diesel cars about seven to meet the standard.
The Quant exhibition was a lively reminder of a world where the young held sway – literally. The boomer generation was starting its long hegemony – taking the keys of the castle from parents exhausted by World War Two, they had the freedom to reinvent everything from the corset to the built enviromment – both for good and for ill. A video shows Quant explaining that she was “trying to live in the future”.
Glasgow is full of mementos of that time – like the urban motorways cut through it. We took another Uber back from the gallery and our driver Joe waxed lyrical about the exceptional tram system Glasgow once had, closed in 1962. It was one of the largest in Europe with 1000 trams covering 100 route miles – emission-free affordable public transport that went to every area. Many Glasgow tram drivers were women – but they weren’t allowed to transfer to the buses due to the greater physical strength thought to be required to steer them. The age of the car was the future back then.
Now the internal combustion engine has had its day. China’s new lighter and cheaper electric cars are flying off the shelves – they have 4 million public charging posts now – one for every 350 citizens.
We stopped for an ice cream at a café opposite Kelvingrove – that is actually outside the zone, which affects only the centre. Our waiter Murray, like many Glaswegians, doesn’t drive – there is low car ownership. Murray didn’t think the plan would affect him and said the city “might as well give it a go”. Others I spoke to were concerned about footfall in the city centre. There are definitely challenges for the carless in getting around – Glasgow is a sprawling city and the bus network is not as good as Edinburgh’s publicly owned one.
Walking back to Queen Street in the afternoon sunshine, I stopped to chat to some waiters moving furniture outside one of the big eateries looking onto George Square. The couple of them who drove said that their wee cars were OK and that they weren’t concerned about damage from the LEZ.
The black cab rank outside the station was moving fast so I could only talk to the drivers for a minute or two. Joe (no relation to the Uber driver as far as I know) said the LEZ was good news for children’s lungs and for people with respiratory illness but bad news for others, such as black cab drivers who have a year to expensively upgrade their cabs. Having weighed this in the balance, he felt the children’s lungs were more important. I guess he’s right – poor old Sylvia Corsa’s days are numbered.
First published on the author’s Substack A letter from Scotland