By expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone, which is now 18 times the size of the original central London zone, the Mayor of London hopes to significantly improve air quality and Londoners’ health.
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The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced the expansion of the area covered by the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) from central London up to, but not including, the North Circular (A406) and South Circular (A205) Roads on 25 October 2021.
The new zone is 18 times the size of the central London zone and now covers 3.8 million people. Measuring 380km2, it covers one quarter of London and is the largest zone of its kind in Europe. It will bring the health benefits of cleaner air to millions more Londoners, both inside and outside of the newly expanded zone. The scheme will operate 24 hours a day, every day of the year (except Christmas Day).
The ULEZ expansion, alongside tighter London-wide Low Emission Zone (LEZ) standards for heavy vehicles that were introduced in March 2021, is expected to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from road transport by 30 per cent across London in 2021.
The ULEZ is also a crucial step towards the Mayor’s ambitions to tackle the climate emergency and put London on the path to be a net zero carbon city by 2030. It is also an issue of social justice, with the poorest Londoners, and Londoners from ethnic minority backgrounds, being least likely to own a car but also the worst affected by toxic air.
Mayor Khan’s scrappage scheme
A major awareness campaign has been underway over the past three years to ensure that drivers and businesses are ready for the ULEZ expansion, with Transport for London’s (TfL) online vehicle checker being used more than 20 million times since 2018. Over a million letters have been sent to owners of non-compliant vehicles seen inside the zone.
The Mayor has provided £61 million in funding for grants for small businesses, charities operating minibuses and low-income and disabled Londoners to scrap their older, more polluting vehicles. However, unlike other Clean Air Zones, London has had no government support for its scrappage schemes. Despite this, these schemes have helped to remove over 12,000 more polluting vehicles from London’s roads, the single biggest such programme in the UK.
The existing ULEZ and the London-wide LEZ have shown that charging to incentivise emissions reductions works and its impacts on air quality and health are rapid. Before the pandemic, there had been a 44 per cent reduction in roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations in central London compared to in February 2017, when changes associated with the ULEZ began. The compliance rate for heavy vehicles covered by the London-wide LEZ is an impressive 95 per cent up, from 48 per cent in February 2017 when the scheme was first announced.
Preparing for the expansion
Many Londoners have already taken action to prepare ahead of the ULEZ expansion. Early indications show that 87 per cent of vehicles travelling in the zone already meet the ULEZ standards. This is a dramatic increase in compliance compared to 39 per cent in February 2017, when changes associated with the ULEZ began. This means that Londoners are already experiencing the benefits of cleaner air. This is supported by new data, published in late October 2021 by the Clean Cities Campaign, that London drivers are ditching diesel cars six times faster than the rest of UK.
This high compliance rate also means that, as the expanded scheme launches, it is expected that only 110,000 vehicles each day are likely to need to pay the £12.50 charge. There are a number of options to avoid paying the charge, including walking, cycling, taking public transport, using shared mobility (such as a car club) or upgrading to a cleaner vehicle.
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