ALL vehicles should come under a new Oxford low emission zone and not just buses, a councillor has said.

From January 1, regular buses must meet strict environmental standards to drive through the city centre. Buses must also switch off their engines when waiting for more than a minute.

Low frequency services – those making 25 inbound and outbound journeys in a week or less – are exempt.

But Green Party councillor Craig Simmons said the new measures should apply to all vehicles to tackle high pollution levels.

The low emission zone (LEZ) covers major roads, and all major bus firms meet the criteria.

It is the UK’s second low emission zone outside of London, which introduced one in 2008 for heavy vehicles.

Mr Simmons said: “This low emission zone has been a long time coming but shows that our consistent campaigning on air quality has paid off.”

He said: “An LEZ is long overdue – air quality is continuing to deteriorate in the city centre. Our concern is that the limited measures proposed will have a minimal effect.

“It applies only to buses – many of which were already in service last year, when air quality again declined.

“And there are several exemptions. There needs to be a clear plan to extend the LEZ to cover all polluting vehicles.”

But executive board member for Cleaner, Greener Oxford John Tanner said: “Focusing on buses which are the biggest problem will be more effective and less disruptive for traffic in Oxford but we will continue to measure pollution levels and I suspect that we will have to do more.

“We have put an age limit on our taxis and we are looking at the possibility of a freight exchange depot to take lorries out of the city centre.”

Pollution has failed to go below the target of 40ug/m3 – micrograms per cubic metre of air – since 2006, the council said.

Bus operators without at least a Euro 5-standard exhaust could be stripped of their licence. Oxford Bus Company, Stagecoach and Thames Travel and National Express vehicles meet the standard.

Philip Kirk, managing director of Oxford Bus Company, said: “We’ve been leading the way in Oxford on environmentally sensitive transport for nearly 20 years.

“We already have one of the greenest bus fleets in the country so it’s natural that we are fully supportive of the LEZ initiative. In the last five years we’ve invested over £15m in the greenest vehicles including state of the art electric hybrid buses.”

The city council has already approved a new air quality action plan which sets out more plans to tackle air pollution up to 2020.