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Pollution solutions in Birmingham


Air pollution is a large societal and environmental problem; one that grows as the population rises, cities expand and vehicle use increases. Ensuring we have clean air for the generations that follow is a world-wide challenge and in the UK, Governments, businesses and citizens are working together to achieve stringent targets to tackle air pollution head on.

A growing problem  
In 2012, 6.5 million people died worldwide from diseases relating to poor air quality, making it the fourth largest threat to human life after high blood pressure, dietary risks and smoking. As a problem which spans borders, the European Union is coordinating efforts to tackle poor air quality by holding governments to legally binding targets. In the UK around 50,000 people die prematurely from air pollution each year. As may be expected, London is most affected – however other cities in the country have severe problems with air pollution too.  Birmingham has been chosen, along with 4 others to form Clean Air Zones (CAZ) as part of the government’s strategy to tackle poor air quality.

With operations in engineering, transport, utilities, facilities management and environmental and waste sectors, to name just a few, Amey is working with public, private and educational institutions across the country to make a meaningful contribution. In Birmingham, a number of initiatives Amey supports are already starting to deliver results.

Amey operates and manages a number of core services in the city, and work closely with Birmingham City Council to reduce pollution in the city. Here we describe some examples of projects which Amey have carried out in collaboration with the council and technical partners, in order to tackle pollution in the city.

Amey2-1707Changing driver behavior
Greenwave is a project targeting driver behavior, through a smartphone application created by Idox Transport. The app helps drivers to improve their driving style through ‘gamification’ – the application of typical elements of game play in other areas, in this case driving style. Drivers are awarded points and ranked in a monthly table based on their driving performance. The App communicates with Birmingham City Council’s Intelligent Transport System (ITS) to tell drivers when lights are changing, allowing the driver to reduce their speed in a more economical and environmentally friendly manner. It has been shown that a more informed driving style, with less heavy breaking and quick accelerating will dramatically improve fuel efficiency and consequently a reduction in emissions. The trial, which is funded by Innovate UK is due to take place in 2017 across a number of Amey operated vehicles, with the aim to deliver a 10% reduction in monthly fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory (GLOSA) is a similar DfT-funded project managed by Transport for West Midlands on the A45 corridor from Coventry to Birmingham. This project is testing two different approaches to retrieve data from street furniture (traffic lights) and deliver it to apps on driver devices. It will also examine interoperability between different approaches (Greenwave and the UK-CITE project).

Clean Air Zone Trial
Amey has also partnered with Birmingham County Council and Siemens to operate a Low Emission Zone trial, which has quantified the type of vehicles on certain segments of roads in high traffic areas in the city. The trial has enabled the average pollution from each cohort of vehicle to be calculated, and the type of journeys and routes completed (short/ long/repeat). This has all been achieved through the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and Low Emission Zone software from Siemens and data analytics from Amey. It is hoped the conclusions can help inform the Council’s strategy for a reduction in emissions as part of the Clean Air Zone obligations being introduced by Government – potentially introducing a charge for certain vehicles when entering high pollution areas. Initial results suggest a breakdown of traffic as: 81% domestic cars; 9% light good vehicles; 4% buses and taxis. The imperative from a UK perspective, aside from the damaging consequences pollution has on people’s health, is the EU has legal power (currently) to impose fines for non-compliance (tentative suggestions are in the region of up to £300 million per year). At current rates, the West Midlands will not achieve the target set by the EU for another 15 years (15 years after the deadline).

Amey3-1707Amey4-1707Capturing and displaying air quality data
In the UK a network of sensors is used as DEFRA’s tool to capture air quality data (including the Automatic Urban Rural Network – AURN) which is then assessed against EU levels. This process does not always reflect the actual situation with air quality in terms of the congestion related affects that occur within urban street canyons for example. The development of low-cost sensor technology has resulted in the ability to deploy spatially and temporarily dense networks of devices, and with appropriate big-data analytics and scientifically rigorous data validation  there is now good evidence  more representative of air pollution in these types of scenarios. Amey in partnership with Newcastle University have created a platform to analyse and display air quality trends over time in specific locations, from data collected by these types of sensor networks fused with other relevant data sources such as the local meteorology and traffic characteristics. The partnership is now exploring how the outputs of the above projects can be used to inform air pollution strategy in cities such as Birmingham.

With as pressing an issue as air pollution, it is of upmost importance that an informed approach, using data as a foundation, is taken quickly to ensure the environment and citizens do not continue to suffer due to our transport needs. It is hoped the descriptions of the projects above will help stimulate discussion and prompt others to take action to address the severe problem of air quality in the UK and further afield


Matthew Derry, IT Analyst, Management Graduate, Amey