London’s ultra low emission zone to cover entire city next year

25 November 2022 - 13:28 By Olivia Rudgard
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Charging drivers of polluting cars has dramatically improved air quality.
Charging drivers of polluting cars has dramatically improved air quality.
Image: alenakr / 123rf

London will charge motorists citywide to drive more polluting vehicles, expanding a policy that’s improved air quality and accelerated the transition to electric vehicles.

Drivers of older, higher-emitting cars have been charged £12.50 (R256) a day to drive in the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) that spans London’s central and inner boroughs and those who fail to pay are fined £160 (R3,314). The policy will extend to the city’s outer reaches, affecting about 15% of vehicles in the area becoming part the zone.

“We need to be tackling air pollution, we need to be tackling the climate emergency and we need to be tackling congestion,” mayor Sadiq Khan told reporters.

“The expansion will mean that from August next year more than five-million Londoners will breathe cleaner air.”

Since the ULEZ was put in place three years ago the number of licensed fully electric vehicles in London has increased more than fourfold and the proportion of diesel cars has dropped by more than a quarter. Uber now does a greater share of trips with EVs in London than in any other major city. And London’s air quality — which was much worse than comparably sized cities including New York and Madrid — is now on par with them.

Khan first announced plans to expand the ULEZ earlier this year, drawing criticism that it will raise costs for poorer residents who will struggle to afford newer, cleaner vehicles. Several outer London boroughs opposed the move during a consultation period.

While Khan called expanding the ULEZ “one of the toughest decisions I’ve taken since I’ve been a politician”, he said he’s “not willing to allow political expediency to trump public health”.

An initiative to offer money to scrap polluting cars will be relaunched, with a new pot of £110m (R2.2bn) available for eligible drivers to claim a grant or free public transport. Extra bus routes will be introduced in affected areas and disabled drivers will be exempt until October 2027.

The expansion brings almost all of London’s nine-million residents into the zone, which was first introduced over a smaller central area in April 2019 and expanded in October last year. The fees generally apply to petrol-powered vehicles made before 2005 and diesel cars made before 2015. Older goods vehicles, motorbikes and minibuses also are affected.

Data collected by the mayor’s office and analysed by academics at Imperial College London suggest the ULEZ has led to a significantly lower level of particulate and nitrogen dioxide emissions than otherwise would have been expected. About 44,000 fewer non-compliant cars are driven in central London on an average day as a result of the policy, according to Elliot Treharne, the city’s assistant director of transport.

Khan said he considered delaying the decision to expand the ULEZ and likely would have done so had the Greater London Authority not been able to find extra money for the scrappage fund.

“According to independent experts, there is no other scheme in the world — and we’ve looked far and wide — to see the level of improvements in air that we’ve seen in such a short period of time as a direct consequence of the ultra low emission zone,” Khan said.

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