The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charging scheme will expand on 29 August 2023 to cover all of London. Below we run through what ULEZ is, how it is being expanded and who it will impact. You can check to see if your vehicle is ULEZ compliant by running a free check on the Total Car Check website and app.
What is ULEZ?
ULEZ is an emission charging scheme that was introduced by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan in 2019. It is administered by Transport for London (TfL), a local government transport agency. The key facts:
- ULEZ is designed to reduce harmful emissions in London and improve air quality. It is one of several emission reducing charging schemes covering cities across the UK.
- The scheme levies a charge of £12.50 a day and up to £160 penalty charge for any non-compliant vehicle that enters the ULEZ.
- To avoid the ULEZ charge vehicles must meet ULEZ emission standards. Most commercial vehicles weighing over 3.5 tonnes, buses, coaches and mini-buses are exempt from the scheme, but covered by a separate London Emission Zone (LEZ) scheme. Check your vehicle for free here.
- The scheme operates 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, except on Christmas Day (25 December).
- ULEZ runs in addition to the London Congestion Charge which covers Central London only. So if you have a vehicle which is not ULEZ compliant then driving into Central London could lead to you paying charges under both schemes.
- ULEZ currently covers the area encircled by the North and South Circular roads in London.
How is ULEZ changing in August 2023?
The Zone is being expanded to cover the entirety of Greater London from 29 August 2023. In some areas ULEZ will stretch out to the M25. A map of the expanded ULEZ area is available on the TfL website here. The expansion was approved and announced by the Mayor of London last month. Over 80% of London residents that were consulted by TfL were opposed to the scheme. But the Mayor decided to move forward with the change – citing the environmental and health benefits of doing so.
Aim of the ULEZ expansion
The aim of the ULEZ expansion is to discourage residents and those entering London to replace their polluting vehicles with cleaner ones, or substitute road transport for bicycle or public transport such as train, tube and bus. To assist with the transition TfL is operating a scrappage scheme where eligible applicants can receive up to £2,000 for scrapping a non-compliant car and £1,000 for a motorcycle. For wheelchair accessible vehicles TfL will provide up to £5,000 to retrofit.
ULEZ expansion challengers and supporters
There has been a strong backlash to growing the ULEZ. Change.org set up a petition to oppose the expansion and so far over 220,000 London residents have signed. They argue that many working Londoners will be priced off the road. They will have the poor choice of: paying to replace their vehicle; paying the charge; or being reliant on public transport. The justification for expanding the Zone has also been challenged from an environmental policy perspective. Those areas that will now face the charge cover green suburbs of London that have much lower levels of pollution compared to Central London. Many residents on the periphery of the expanded ULEZ do not often travel into ‘London’. They have therefore asked why they should be subjected to the charge.
Conversely, environmentalists have argued that the changes will lead to cleaner air and health benefits to 5 million more people living and working in London. The expansion of the Zone has also been viewed as a necessary step as part of the Government’s Net Zero strategy – to transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
As is often the case with environmental policies there is a trade off. Short term economic impacts versus longer term environmental benefits. The problem with the ULEZ expansion is the swiftness of change at a time when many are facing economic hardship. For average earning Londoners and those that rely on travelling into London to make a living, the expansion has led to a financial shock. The lead time is fairly immediate. With less than a year between the announcement from the Mayor and implementation in August 2023.
But looking at the bigger picture, the Mayor of London and London Assembly (local Government) has committed to reinvesting ULEZ funds into air quality and transport improvements. So long as this happens London should be cleaner and greener as a result of the change. This will lead to health benefits for all and continue to position the capital as an attractive tourist destination. But will this price many Londoners out of London, or will they be able to cope/adapt? Only time will tell.