Mayor announces plans for restrictions within M25 by end of next year
Scheme currently ends at the North and South Circular Roads
This Friday (4 March), Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover the whole of Greater London by the end of 2023.
The announcement comes less than six months after the ULEZ was first expanded to cover the area up to, but not including, the north and south circular roads, having initially just covered central London.
Although a consultation will need to take place before any changes to the mayor’s clean air scheme are implemented, questions are already being asked about what the expansion could mean.
The Ultra-Low Emission Zone was first introduced by Sadiq Khan in April 2019 in a bid to cut air pollution from vehicles in central London, originally operating in the same area as the Congestion Charge zone.
But in October 2021, the operating area of the zone was expanded to 18 times its original size, which Sadiq Khan says has brought cleaner air to around 3.8 million people.
The zone now covers most of inner London, having been expanded to include everywhere within the north and south circular roads.
Drivers whose vehicles do not meet emissions standards face a daily charge of £12.50 to enter the zone. Unlike the Congestion Charge, the ULEZ is in operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Petrol cars being driven into the zone must meet Euro 4 emissions standards, which became mandatory on all new cars made from 2005 onwards. Diesel vehicles must have a Euro 6 engine, which became mandatory in 2015.
In his announcement, Sadiq Khan said that “we don’t have time to waste” in tackling the “triple challenge” of air pollution, climate change and congestion.
The Mayor of London revealed that he plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to cover the entirety of Greater London, meaning all 33 boroughs would be affected.
If the plan goes ahead, it effectively means that only “clean” vehicles would be able to drive within the M25, with drivers of older, more polluting vehicles having to pay the £12.50-a-day levy.
In January, an expert report commissioned by City Hall found that car journeys in London would need to be reduced by 27 per cent by the end of the decade if the capital were to reach its ambitious climate change goals.
That prompted the Mayor of London to instruct TfL to investigate the feasibility of four different options that could be introduced to cut emissions and reduce car dependency.
Those options included expanding the ULEZ to the whole of Greater London, introducing a £2-a-day “Clean Air Charge”, a combination of the two, or a controversial Greater London Boundary Charge that would have seen drivers charged £3.50-a-day to enter London.
In his announcement on Friday, Sadiq Khan said that the rising cost of living was a “key consideration” in his decision to press ahead with expanding the ULEZ, which “will have the biggest effect on emissions and congestion relative to the potential financial impact on Londoners as a whole”.
The Mayor of London revealed that he had axed plans to introduce a Clean Air Charge or a Boundary Charge – the latter of which did not have the backing of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Aside from tackling air pollution, bolstering TfL’s coffers will also undoubtedly have factored into the decision.
When plans were being drawn up for the first ULEZ expansion last year, it was estimated that widening the zone would net TfL up to £2 million per day from both fines and levies.
But with around 92 per cent of vehicles entering the expanded zone meeting minimum emissions standards, the income generated by the scheme is significantly less than anticipated – around £600,000 per day.
The first ULEZ expansion in October 2021 was deemed to be a success and is believed to have taken around 47,000 older vehicles off London’s roads every day. This resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in the amount of nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx) in London.
Drivers in London were keen to avoid paying the £12.50-a-day charge, leading to a 92 per cent compliance rate with ULEZ emission standards.
But further expanding the Ultra-Low Emission to cover the whole of Greater London will not lead to quite as significant an impact, according to estimates.
City Hall estimates that a total of between 20,000 and 40,000 older vehicles will be taken off the roads as a result of further expansion, which could see a further 10 per cent reduction in NOx emissions.
While any impact on air quality would be a benefit, TfL will likely have to weigh up the cost effectiveness of widening the ULEZ even further – it spent around £130 million installing 750 cameras to enforce the expanded zone last year.
It is widely accepted that more needs to be done to tackle air quality in London, but the response to Sadiq Khan’s announcement has been lukewarm.
Simon Birkett, founder and director of Clean Air in London, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the proposed ULEZ expansion would be “an important step” in getting polluting vehicles off the road, but that ultimately, it is still a “blunt instrument”.
He said, “The proposed ULEZ expansion is another important step – or would be another important step – on the path to banning diesel vehicles [in London], so that’s obviously a good thing. But ultimately, the ULEZ, like the Congestion Charge, are blunt instruments. This is a bigger blunt instrument. What we really need is emission-based road charging, which basically could be stronger, smarter and fairer. That’s what we would like to see.”
Sadiq Khan admitted in his speech on Friday morning that a system of smart road user charging would ultimately be “the fairest solution” to tackling pollution, but that TfL is still “many years away” from being able to implement such a scheme.
Charging drivers based on how far they drive and the amount of emissions their vehicle produces is an idea that has been suggested in the London Assembly by members of the Green Party.
Reacting to Friday’s announcement, Green Party Assembly Member Zack Polanski said that expanding ULEZ would be a “good interim step”, but that “we need road user charging to clean up London’s air”.
He said, “Greens on the Assembly have been calling for smart road user charging for at least a decade – so I’m disappointed the mayor claims we are ‘many years’ away from this scheme.
“Londoners will now have another flat, less fair system implemented instead. The mayor must consider the unfair impact these changes could have on Londoners – they will be charged one fee whether they’re dropping someone off for a doctors’ appointment or driving around all day.”
He added that a system of smart road user charging should be implemented “without delay” and “not kicked into the long grass yet again”.
A similar reaction was provided by the Centre for London thinktank’s chief executive Nick Bowes, who called the proposed expansion “another step forward for cleaner air in the city”.
But he added that it cannot be “another short-term stepping stone to a smarter pay per mile road user charging scheme”, which could be “the truly transformational change” needed to tackle pollution, climate change and congestion in London.
Joe Talora - Local Democracy Reporter
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