Approximately one third of fleet operators (34%) have no strategy planned for dealing with the introduction of clean air zones (CAZs), according to new research published by the AA and BT Solutions.

The findings were revealed in the yearly Operational Fleet Report, sourcing responses from 505 prominent fleet managers and 16 industry experts specialising in clean air and alternative fuels.

The report demonstrates that the vast majority of fleets are preparing strategies to deal with the potential penalties being introduced. However, a significant minority were shown to have done too little to ready themselves for the potential impact to operations.

Up to one in five operators stated they would rather pay fines and charges upon entering the CAZ than replace their old vehicles with newer, cleaner models. Furthermore, over half (51%) of respondents admitted to currently operating vehicles that are non-compliant with the most recent emissions standards.

London's ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) is set to be introduced from April 2019, aiming penalty charges at all cars, trucks and vans falling below emissions standards.

Birmingham City Council recently approved plans to introduce a CAZ which exempts only the most environmentally-friendly cars and vans. Leeds, on the other hand, is set to implement a charging system which pursues non-compliant (pre-Euro 6 diesel and pre-Euro 4 petrol) buses, coaches, HGVs, taxis and private hire vehicles. If permitted by Government, these schemes would come into effect from January 2020.

While it is unclear now which other local authorities may choose to introduce CAZs, the opportunity is being considered in Bath, Bristol and Cambridge areas.

The report also highlights that the average cost of upgrading a fleet to ensure compliance could reach £256,000 at minimum. Gary Harrison – engineering manager at BT Fleet Solutions – warned that larger fleets on longer replacement cycles could face "significantly higher" costs.

“If you are a smaller operator, say up to 99 vehicles, 40% of them didn’t have a (clean air zone) strategy. Once you looked at the larger fleet operators, who perhaps have a team of people involved in the management of vehicles, that dropped down to just 18%," Harrison explained.

“The expectation is the impact is going to be much more significant for the larger fleets and therefore you’d expect them to spend the time and the effort to understand the legislative changes, and prepare for them.”

"I see this as the biggest fundamental change for a fleet operator in more than a hundred years,” warned Harrison.

Henry Brace, BT Fleet Solutions managing director, stated: “Many in the industry do not feel fully informed about the changes and this lack of clarity presents barriers to compliance.

“Compliant Euro 6 diesel engines have only been available for the past two years, and alternative fuels are still relatively new. This means companies with very large fleets will need to replace a lot of vehicles. But it still begs the question – what with?”

Pushing for a more collaborative approach, Brace added: “The fleet industry feels that a wider coalition between motoring organisations and Government agencies will ensure a future that is both environmentally progressive and economically sound."