Everything you need to know about London’s ULEZ

The world's first Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has been introduced across central London today (8 April), in a bid to reduce air pollution levels and carbon emissions from transport across the capital. Here, edie rounds up what, precisely, the Zone entails, and the impact it will have on business.

Everything you need to know about London’s ULEZ

The ULEZ replaces the T-Charge and operates alongside the Congestion Charge

In 2014, Boris Johnson announced plans to introduce the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London in September 2020 – the first time that a UK-based ULEZ had been mentioned be a city Mayor.

Since then, incumbent London Mayor Sadiq Khan moved the launch forward to April 2019, arguing that the move could help cut London’s overall transport emissions by up to one-fifth within its first year of operation, while lifting more than 100,000 residents out of “dangerous” levels of NO2 pollution.

After years of preparation, the scheme went live this morning, with Transport for London (TfL) estimating that it is likely to affect 40,000 to 60,000 vehicles each day.  

Here, edie explores the impact the ULEZ is likely to have on air quality, carbon emissions and the shift to clean transport.

What charges does the ULEZ entail?

Under the ULEZ, diesel vehicles that were registered before 2015 and therefore do not meet Euro 6 standards and petrol cars and vans which were registered before 2006 and therefore do not meet Euro 4 standards will be subject to a £12.50 charge for every day that they enter the marked Zone.

Motorbikes and mopeds which were registered before 2007 and therefore were not produced to Euro 3 standards will also be liable to pay the £12.50, while buses, coaches and lorries will need to meet or exceed Euro 6 standards or pay £100 per day. Failure to pay will result in a hefty penalty charge notice (PCN) of £160, or £80 if paid within 14 days.

First introduced in 1992, Euro standards have gradually set stricter requirements for both petrol and diesel engines, chiefly concerning nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HC) and particulate matter (PM). They apply to all new light duty vehicles sold in the EU and EEA (European Economic Area) member states.

Drivers are being urged to check whether their vehicle is ULEZ-compliant using TfL’s online checker tool. Some drivers and vehicles notably qualify for a temporary discount from the ULEZ charge. 

ULEZ charges apply in addition to the Congestion Charge Zone charges but replace the T-Charge, which required older polluting cars to pay £10 to drive through central London.

All the cash raised from ULEZ charges will be ring-fenced by TfL in order to fund low-carbon and efficiency upgrades to the capital’s bus, tube, bicycle and rail networks.

Where is the ULEZ?

The ULEZ currently covers most of Central London, including the City and Westminster areas, and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. It will be expanded to cover most of Greater London from October 25 2021, accounting for the entire area between the North and South Circular roads.

Motorists can check postcodes to see whether they currently fall within the ULEZ using TfL’s online “ULEZ When and Where” tool.

What are the ramifications for business?

It is worth noting that 60% of all vehicles driving through charging zone in March were already compliant with the new restrictions, suggesting that the majority of modern business fleets are not likely to be affected.

But any business which operates in Central London and owns or operate vehicles that do not meet the ULEZ standards are likely to experience increased costs, with research from CitySprint having found that half of businesses operating within the capital are likely to experience charges of some kind.

Numerous experts in the sustainable transport field have argued that the ULEZ charges, coupled with the Congestion Charge, the development of other low-emission zones in areas such as Birmingham and Oxford and the Government’s ban on the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars after 2040 will lead larger businesses to electrify their fleets.

Such an opinion has been voiced by the likes of ZipCar UK, Go Ultra Low and The Climate Group’s EV100 team, with the ULEZ having already spurred 17 major businesses and organisations to pledge to replace their van fleets with EVs by 2028. Similarly, a pre-ULEZ initiative jointly run by businesses on one of London’s Bond Street – one of the capital’s most polluted – have collaborated to slash the amount of CO2e and NOx emitted by freight vehicles travelling in the area by 76%.

However, several SMEs, NGOs and charities have argued that the ULEZ charges are likely to affect their turnover to the point that they can no longer operate viably within Central London. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), for example, has said that many small firms are “very worried about the future of their businesses” as a result of the “additional cost burden”.

In response to the issue, a £23m scrappage fund to help charities and small businesses switch older, polluting vans for cleaner vehicles was opened by the Mayor’s Office in December 2018. Through the scheme, old vans can be scrapped for up to £6,000 to help with purchases and running costs of electric vehicles (EVs) or those compliant with the ULEZ – but the funding is only open to organisations with 10 or fewer employees.

A further Mayor’s Office initiative recently added an extra £25m into a Government scrappage scheme for old and polluting cars, which is open to both business and individuals. Khan previously told edie that he would only be able to achieve his clean air vision for London with support from the city’s business community.

Separately, the Government also offers grants of up to £8,000 to reduce the cost of purchasing an electric van. This fund is open to organisations of all sizes.

More recently, TfL launched its Bikes for Business scheme, which will support around 60 SMEs in the London Bridge area to switch to cargo bikes for last-mile deliveries.

What are the environmental and health benefits of the ULEZ?

It’s estimated that around 40,000 premature deaths that occur in the UK every year have links to air pollution as a contributing factor. Almost one quarter (9,400) of these deaths occur in the UK capital, where transport is estimated to account for half of NOx pollution.

TfL estimates the initial ULEZ will lead to a reduction in toxic emissions from road transport in Central London by about 45% by the end of 2020.

As for the planned 2021 expansion, Khan claims that it will ensure that every school in London meets legal pollution limits by 2025, and that just 2% of London’s roads by length will exceed NO limits by the same deadline. At present, more than 400 London schools are in areas where air quality limits have been breached within the past two years.

If the ULEZ’s predicted 2025 impact is achieved, the gap in air quality between London’s highest and lowest-income areas will be slashed by around 70%, according to City Hall.

How has the green economy responded?

Key figures within the UK’s green economy have widely praised the ULEZ, but some have argued that it is still not supporting SMEs enough or that it needs to be expanded sooner. Here is what people are saying. 

Friends of the Earth’s air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates: “With thousands of premature deaths in London every year because of dangerously toxic air it’s clear that tough action is needed to end this health crisis. The ULEZ has a crucial role to play in cleaning up the capital’s filthy air – but a strengthened scheme and additional measures are needed to protect the health of all Londoners.”

Go Ultra Low’s head Poppy Welch: “For businesses regularly driving in London, the introduction of the ULEZ means there has never been a better time to consider incorporating electric vehicles into fleets. With a number of other cities, including Leeds and Birmingham, set to introduce clean air zones over the coming years, now could be the perfect time to invest in a lower emission, and lower cost, electric vehicle fleet.”

C40 Cities’ executive director Mark Watts: “Those cities which embrace the shift to zero-emission transport most quickly will enjoy cleaner air, healthier and more prosperous communities, lower health care costs and greater resilience to the effects of climate change. The era of the internal combustion engine dominating the world’s great cities is coming to an end. It will not be missed.”

Green Party member at the House of Lords Jenny Jones: “Hurray for City Hall and the Mayor of London for bringing in the ULEZ. A move in the right direction. Obviously, the zone should be much bigger, now, and why should people be allowed to pay to pollute anyway? But baby steps to dealing with the national air pollution crisis.”

The Climate Group’s chief executive Helen Clarkson: “London is demonstrating great leadership by introducing the world’s first ULEZ. This is exactly the kind of bold policy measure we need to tackle inner-city air pollution and drive down carbon emissions. Congratulations to the Mayor – we hope other major cities are inspired to follow suit.”

CBI London’s Director Eddie Curzon: “The ULEZ is a really positive step towards improving air quality, but smaller firms can struggle to afford the switch to low-emission vehicles, and for some larger vehicles, there are simply no low-emission alternatives available. 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.”

Centre for London’s research manager Silviya Barrett: “The ULEZ is one of the most ambitious schemes of its kind in the world, but it has limitations: it will have limited impact on some forms of pollutants and on reducing overall car usage; some argue small businesses and those on lower incomes will be adversely affected; and, being a flat charge, it may perversely incentivise people to drive more to get value from their payments. In the long term, the Mayor should be preparing London to embrace new technology and replace the growing patchwork of road charges with a fairer, simpler and smarter system which makes sure road users pay for the true costs of a journey.”

Nissan Motor GB’s sales director and interim managing director Andrew Sellars: “It’s clear that as the UK continues to implement its Road to Zero strategy – which will see at least half of all new cars sold being ultra-low emission models by 2030 – UK citizens are taking a more active interest in the benefits of electric vehicles, which contribute strongly to improving air quality in city centres. However, it’s also clear that more needs to be done to increase public awareness about how electric vehicles such as the Nissan LEAF and e-NV200 van can help drivers avoid charges like those in the new ULEZ zone. The financial incentives to purchase an electric vehicle can be greater than £10,000, and are there to encourage people to change their vehicle for one with zero tailpipe emissions.”

Sarah George

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