A view of a information sign at Tower Hill in central London, for the introduction on Monday of the Ultra Low Emission Zone

Ultra-low emission zone comes into force for London drivers

Image credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Motorists driving older and more polluting vehicles will be charged an extra £12.50-a-day to enter central London congestion areas as a new ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) comes into effect today.

Transport for London (TfL) hopes the new initiative will reduce the number of polluting cars in the capital and estimates around 40,000 vehicles will be affected.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said the scheme was brought in to help prevent thousands of deaths from air pollution, adding that the city’s “toxic air is damaging people’s health”. According to a study by King’s College London, which was commissioned by Khan, poor air quality leads to about 1,000 London hospital admissions for asthma and serious lung conditions every year.

“As someone who developed adult-onset asthma over the last few years, I know from personal experience that London’s toxic air is damaging people’s health,” Khan said. “This study is a stark reminder that air pollution disproportionately affects the most vulnerable Londoners and I’m doing everything in my power to protect children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions from our filthy air.”

To be exempt from the charge introduced, diesel cars must be less than four years old, whilst petrol cars much be less than 13 years old. Also, petrol cars, vans and minibuses must meet the Euro 4 emissions standards and diesels must meet Euro 6.

For the first two-and-a-half years, the ULEZ covers the same area as London’s existing congestion charge. But in October 2021, it will be expanded to the entirety of the inner city, out to the north and south circular roads. It is estimated that 100,00 cars, 35,000 vans and 3,000 lorries may be affected every day once the zone is expanded.

London Ultra-low emission zone guide

Image credit: Transport for London (TfL)

Unlike the congestion charge, which costs drivers £11.50 between 7am and 6pm on weekdays, the ULEZ levy is in forces 24 hours a day. Unless they meet certain emissions standards or exemptions, all vehicle types apart from black taxis are liable for the ULEZ charge, and non-compliant lorries, buses and coaches will face a £100 daily fee.

According to a report by City Hall, thousands of drivers have upgraded to newer, cleaner vehicles or have changed their journey patterns ahead of the introduction of ULEZ.

Furthermore, City Hall found that two thirds of vehicles driving in central London already meet new pollution rules and will not pay the extra £12.50-a-day levy. Its figures show the proportion of vehicles that are not compliant with the required emissions standards fell from 61 per cent in February 2017  to 39 per cent in February 2019.

ULEZ was initially announced by former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, but his successor Khan brought forward the start date and decided on the 2021 extension.

There have been concerns that poorer motorists, small businesses and charities will be unfairly hit by the charge because they are less able to afford newer vehicles.

According to Eddie Curzon, London director of business organisation the CBI, the ULEZ levy is a “really positive step” but warned that “smaller firms can struggle to afford to switch to low-emission vehicles”.

“To make a success of the ULEZ, it is crucial that City Hall works with firms to help them take advantage of new technologies and support them, where required, to accelerate the take-up of low emission vehicles,” he said.

In light of the advice from Curzon, City Hall said the TfL is running a scrappage scheme to help the smallest businesses and charities switch to cleaner vehicles.

The Greater London Authority Conservative group leader, Gareth Bacon, claimed Khan’s decision to bring forward the initiative by a year has “caught small businesses and charities on the hop”.

“The damage caused by the early introduction of the central ULEZ will pale into insignificance compared to the impact of its extension to the North and South Circulars in 2021,” he added. “This punitive move will hit the very poorest Londoners hardest.”

Despite the concerns addressed above, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah – a mother of a schoolgirl who died of an asthma attack linked to air pollution six years ago – has praised Khan for launching ULEZ, urging others to follow his example and called on him to go even further and faster.

“It is a really brave thing that Sadiq Khan is doing and I know he really cares about the damage that air pollution is doing to our children’s health, but it is not enough,” said Kissi-Debrah. “I just wish he could be even braver and go further, quicker, because I do worry we are running out of time to tackle this.”

On Friday 5 April, German automakers such as BMW and Volkswagen faced hefty fines after EU antitrust regulators charged them and company Daimler with colluding to block the rollout of clean emissions technology.

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