City traffic and the Ultra Low Emission Zone

Jun 24, 2019

Despite continuing efforts to control emissions in our towns and cities, the problem remains and air quality suffers.

In London, a congestion charge was introduced some time ago seemingly to little effect. As a result the current administration has now introduced a more draconian measure: The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will cost drivers of polluting vehicles £12.50 a day. Transport for London hopes the move will reduce the number of polluting cars in the capital, and estimates about 40,000 vehicles will be affected every day.

The main aim of ULEZ is to cut vehicle emissions in London and improve air quality, by discouraging driving. The authorities say that the introduction of ULEZ will benefit young and old alike, especially those who have breathing problems in highly polluted areas. The thinking is that, over time, motorists will literally buy into the low or no-emission car sector, or public transport, thus rendering themselves exempt.

ULEZ?

The Ultra Low Emission Zone, ULEZ for short, is an area of central London where more polluting vehicles are forced to pay a daily charge to use the roads. It all started on the 8th of April this year. This new zone will replace the T-Charge, which was introduced in 2017 to limit the use of vehicle types that did not meet the minimum Euro 4 emission standards. Most vehicles, including cars and vans, will need to meet new exhaust emission standards or be liable for the daily charge to drive.

Initially, ULEZ will cover the existing London Congestion Charge Zone, but is set to engulf most of the city in the future (see the map). By 2021 the ULEZ will extend to the North and South Circular Road boundary.

Drivers will have to pay a daily charge to travel through the zone which will remain in place all day, every day throughout the year.

Will It Affect My Motor?

ULEZ will affect pre-Euro 6 diesel vehicles built before 2016 and pre-Euro 4 petrol vehicles built before 2006. Non-Euro 3 motorbikes will also be affected. Classic car owners will be delighted to hear that vehicles built before 1979 will avoid the tax, but only if they have been awarded historic vehicle tax status.

Fines for not paying the charge are stiff; those miscreants who do not pay the charge will be fined £160, reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days. It seems likely that there will be no excuse and the costs are even more severe for commercial vehicles.

Is It Fair?

Many people, particularly residents of central London, feel that this is a good move. Right now, they are exempt until 2021 from paying the charge. What will be decided when the area is greatly expanded in 2021 is not known; millions more residents will find themselves within the zone. Those who commute by car into the city are perhaps understandably less keen and it is estimated that 31% could not afford to pay as part of their working day expenses. Further, the Federation of Small Businesses has indicated that many small firms were very worried about the future of their businesses as a result of this additional cost.

There is also the suggestion, roundly disputed, that it is all a money making exercise. Nevertheless, the climate change argument holds sway and the need to guard public health is paramount so it seems likely that ULEZ is here to stay and will likely spread to other major cities over time, many of whom are already considering introducing such schemes.

Approval of ULEZ is not unanimous. Not so many years ago the government of the time was convinced that the new breed of diesel engines was the way forward and motorists were actively thus encouraged and bought into the advantages of diesel fuel. It is understandable then that owners of diesel-powered vehicles might be a bit aggrieved to find the goalposts moved and their fuel of choice demonised, especially now with the latest filters reducing particulates to the lowest ever levels; lower even than some petrol-powered cars.

The Future

The authorities in London have predicted that, thanks to ULEZ, around 100,000 inhabitants within the M25 will no longer live in areas with illegal air quality limits by 2021. That’s a good thing. How people who work in but live out of London, will feel over time is not so clear. When it comes to traffic however everyone is in agreement that something needs to be done. With the emergence of clean, efficient new vehicle technologies expect to see a steep decline in petrol or diesel cars over the next few years. It seems like the future really is electric.