All About London’s ULEZ Expansion in 2021

What is the new ULEZ?

On October 25th, 2021, the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) will be expanded to cover a much larger area of London. The principal aim of this scheme is to improve air quality in the capital by disincentivising people from driving higher-emitting vehicles which contribute to pollution.

When was the current ULEZ created?

The world’s first 24-hour ULEZ area was created in central London in April 2019, covering the same area as the London Congestion Charge. 

Before April 2019, there was already a Low Emission Zone covering most of the city – although this mainly applied to commercial vehicles. However, the current ULEZ applies to all types of vehicles – with the exception of black taxis – and is independent of the Congestion Charge.

If you drive a petrol-fuelled car that is more than 13-14 years old, or a diesel-fuelled car that is more than 4-5-years old, you probably need to pay the ULEZ charge if you drive within the zone.

How do I check whether my vehicle is exempt from ULEZ charges?

TFL has made it relatively easy to check whether your vehicle meets those standards. All you have to do is enter your Vehicle Registration Mark, its Country of Registration, then click ‘Find vehicle’ and you can find out whether it is exempt from the charge.

What are the boundaries of the current ULEZ?

The current zone covers most of central London, including all of the City of Westminster, Mayfair, most of Marylebone, the West End, and the City. It has an adult population of about 170,000 and approximately 54,400 average daily vehicle journeys (in pre-pandemic times).     However, areas such as Pimlico, Belgravia and Paddington – which can experience very high levels of congestion – still fall outside of this zone.

What is the current ULEZ charge?

The current daily charge £12.50 – applying to vehicles that do not meet the government’s emissions standards. 

What are the boundaries of the new ULEZ?

The new zone will extend to the A406 (North Circular Road) and the A205 (South Circular Road) – although these roads won’t fall within the zone. This has a substantially larger adult population – approximately three million – and about ten times the number of average daily vehicle journeys (540,000).

What will the new ULEZ charge be?

The daily fee for non-compliant vehicles will remain the same – £12.50 per day.

Will parked vehicles be charged as well?

No – TFL states that charges only apply for driving your vehicle in ULEZ – although motorists would continue to be subject to council parking charges where applicable.

Has the current ULEZ achieved its goal?

Recent data suggest ULEZ has been a success.

  • Fewer polluting cars

In a press release published in October 2019, the London Assembly revealed that there were 13,500 fewer polluting cars being driven into the ULEZ zone each day.

  • No rise in pollution recorded around the boundary 

Crucially, there was no rise in pollution around the boundary of this zone – despite fears that more traffic would be diverted from ULEZ and increase congestion in non-ULEZ areas.

  • More vehicles meeting the new standards

The percentage of vehicles meeting the new emission standards almost doubled – from 39% in February 2017 to 77% after ULEZ was launched. 

  • Dangerous NO2 pollution has fallen
  • Emissions of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide, which is harmful to the respiratory system) fell by 36% between February 2017 and September 2019 – and London City Hall estimated that the majority of this reduction was solely attributable to ULEZ. 

The Mayor’s verdict: 

Sadiq Khan said the scheme had exceeded expectations, hailing ULEZ as an example of ‘what we can achieve if we are brave enough to implement such ambitious policies’.

But the charging system needs some work

By September 2019, MoneySavingExpert.com revealed that almost 19,000 penalty charges that had been issued to motorists in ULEZ had been successfully appealed. Up to that point, over 300,000 penalty charge notices had been issued. These involved a fine of £160, or £80 if paid within 14 days.

The chance of an appeal being successful is almost 50%

18,927 appeals had been accepted by the end of September 2019, while 17,955 had been rejected – although 9,556 were still being reviewed.

One of the most common reasons for an appeal being upheld was that the vehicle was being rented out. In this case, the renter should be liable, not the hire company. However, in other cases, a vehicle may have been mistaken for being non-ULEZ-compliant, or the vehicle may have been just sold before it was driven into the zone (so the wrong person might have been fined).

Isn’t ULEZ just like the Congestion Charge?

Not quite. In a nutshell:

  • ULEZ is a scheme designed to reduce air pollution
  • The Congestion Charge, as the name obviously implies, is designed to reduce congestion

But don’t these two have the same goals in the end?

In the grand scheme of things, yes.

It goes without saying that ‘pollution’ and ‘congestion’ are inextricably linked – and each scheme must address both of these issues if they are to be successful. However, the ULEZ expansion goes much further than the current scheme because it won’t just be limited to central London.

The Congestion Charge covers an area of London few motorists would dare drive in anyway

This isn’t just based on some anecdotal evidence: London has been named the second worst city in Europe for driving as a tourist – while Rome was ranked the worst (hardly surprising if you’ve ever driven in Rome!).

Today, most Londoners would baulk at the idea of driving casually along Oxford Street, or parking their car outside Harrods in Knightsbridge in the same way they would park their car outside their local suburban supermarket or DIY store. It just wouldn’t feel normal – and rightly so.

With one of the most advanced public transport networks in the world – including a new night tube service – there is really no need for most people to drive into central London – neither is there much appetite for it either.

But the ULEZ extension is different

The new zone isn’t just restricted to the ‘touristy’ parts of London – or the affluent residential streets of Westminster and Mayfair – where many residents – while often eligible for discounts – are able to afford such charges. The new ULEZ will open up the charges to some of the most deprived communities in London.

Technically, a motorist living in a suburb several miles from central London would have to pay £12.50 each day just to drop their kids off to school – if their vehicle didn’t meet the emissions standards.

Many Londoners will be forced to buy new vehicles or incur substantial daily fees

While most Londoners’ vehicles already meet the emissions standards, hundreds of thousands have a little less than a year to ditch their old polluting cars. Now, that may seem simple enough in principle, but in practice this will mean many families across the capital would have to spend thousands of pounds on a new car – or face substantial daily charges which will cost them more in the long run. 

A motorist paying the charge every day would have paid £4,562.50 after 12 months.

The new zone will affect over three times as many motorists

The AA warns that the new expansion could affect up to 350,000 London motorists – many of whom will have to sell vehicles which may not have accumulated that much mileage. 

The AA estimates that 40% of the 100,000 drivers already facing ULEZ charges under the current zone are the worst-off drivers.Therefore, the association is urging councils to subsidise the move towards compliant vehicles for motorists who depend on their cars but can’t afford the new charges. 

‘It is wrong to discriminate against one section of the community’, AA President, Edmund King, warns. However, it is unclear whether councils – already cash-strapped during the pandemic – would be able to commit to a subsidy of this scale.

Some Londoners want the ULEZ expansion to be scrapped

A petition launched two years ago calling for the cancellation of the ULEZ expansion has attracted over 140,000 signatures as of October 2020. 

Mike Rutherford, a founding father of The Motorists’ Association and weekly motoring magazine Auto Express, warned that the new ULEZ price rise – combined with the existing Congestion Charge and council parking fees – could price drivers off the road altogether.

But the overwhelming majority of Londoners support the principle of ULEZ

The results of a YouGov poll published in June this year found that almost 9 in 10 Londoners supported measures to reduce car emissions – and this support is consistently high among people of different ages, income brackets, and among men and women overall.

And tackling London’s chronic pollution is crucial to protecting public health

Any Londoner will tell you that pollution is just as much of a problem in the suburbs as it is in the city centre and the current ULEZ zone. In fact, Brixton Road in south London has the worst air pollution in the capital.

That is where David Smith and his son Eli frequently walked, until the moment Eli was subject to harmful exhaust fumes from a truck that happened to stop next to them one day. 

This prompted David Smith to look into this issue in more detail.

Soon, he discovered that the World Health Organisation was reclassifying diesel engine exhaust as a cause of cancer (a carcinogen).

Next, Smith launched a campaign called Little Ninja to help raise awareness of the danger pollution poses to children in the capital.

Shockingly, almost a quarter of Londoners were subject to illegal levels of pollution in 2019

Data collected just before the launch of the current ULEZ found that two million Londoners were having to endure illegal pollution – where NO2 concentrations exceeded the legal limit. 

On his campaign website, Smith highlights the fact that children living in areas where pollution exceeds legal limits have a 5 to 10% reduced lung capacity, a higher incidence of respiratory problems, and other effects on their cardiovascular health, immune functioning and nervous systems. 

Pollution is associated with a higher risk of death from Covid-19

The results of a study published on the website of the European Society of Cardiology have shown that, on a global level, exposure to air pollution increases the risk of Covid-19 deaths by 15%.

The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical publications, estimated that tens of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution had been avoided thanks to the improvements in air quality that occured due to those lockdowns. This was based on its interpretation of a modelling study of Covid-19 lockdowns in China and Europe which examined the short- and long-term health impacts of the virus.

Therefore, after the pandemic, reducing traffic-generated air pollution and the number of high-emitting vehicles on London’s roads must be a priority.

Congestion is a growing concern in London’s suburbs

Last month, on Twitter, Labour Councillor for southeast London’s Lee Green ward referred to data from Waze Cities Programme by Environmental Defense Fund Europe which showed that, since the reinstatement of the Congestion Charge on May 18th, congestion outside central London have been well above 2019 levels – despite many people spending more time at home (i.e working from home).

Mr Green warned that ‘the primary network is overwhelmed’ and ‘it is vital TFL & the [Lewisham] Council relieve pressure on the South Circular’ until the pandemic ends. 

But will ULEZ increase congestion and pollution in these areas?

Oliver Lord, the Head of Policy and Campaigns at the Environmental Defense Fund charity, says he doesn’t anticipate any issues with increased pollution for residents living just outside the new ULEZ – such as the North and South Circular ring road. 

As we noted earlier, this has not occurred with the current ULEZ. However, when the new zone takes effect, pollution and congestion levels will need to be monitored closely to ensure the policy is working as intended.

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