A council spokesman said the number who had not paid charges was ‘lower than expected’ because of the ‘extensive engagement work’ it carried out in the lead up to its launch.
However, its leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said it was still ‘too early’ to make any serious judgement on the effectiveness of the scheme which he said had been 'forced' on the council.
The government-mandated clean air zone was brought in to reduce air pollution in the city centre but Cllr Vernon-Jackson said ‘better’ alternatives, including a vehicle buy-back scheme for the biggest polluters, were ignored.
‘We recognise the need to reduce air pollution but there were more effective ways to make use of this sort of money,’ he said. ‘By taking these vehicles off the road or by funding a bus pass scheme we could have made a bigger difference.
‘Unfortunately the government took this blanket approach to clean air zones and we had no say.’
Non-compliant buses and lorries are charged £50 a day to drive through it and taxis and private hire vehicles £10. Grants have been awarded to upgrade 222 taxis, 57 buses and 66 lorries to efficiency standards that make them exempt from these charges.
The council is still accepting applications for grants from taxi and private hire vehicle drivers with eight per cent of the fleet not yet up to the required standard but has closed bid from lorry and bus drivers.
From the November 29 launch date to the end of 2021, 2,707 vehicles were charged for being non-compliant and entering the zone, about one in every 400 travelling through it. Twenty per cent of these did not pay, with the council issuing 549 fines.
Fixed penalty notices are £60 if paid within 14 days or £120 if paid after that point.
‘These figures are lower than expected,’ the council spokesman said. ‘This may be due to the extensive work the council has undertaken to engage with drivers that would have been affected by the charges, and give them funding to help upgrade or replace their vehicles before the CAZ came into effect.’