'Ride to freedom': London bikers protest against Ulez expansion

Extension of low-emission zone aims to reduce air pollution but opponents say they cannot afford it

People protest against the Ulez expansion near London on Saturday. PA
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Dozens of motorcyclists on Sunday took part in a "ride to freedom" protest in London to publicise their opposition to the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) expansion scheduled to start on August 29.

Videos of the protest shared on social media showed a large number of motorbikes arriving at a car park. Banners propped up against a nearby red bus read "Cash grab", "Stop Ulez" and "Scrap Khan not cars", a reference to London mayor Sadiq Khan.

The videos were shared after calls for a protest starting on Sunday morning at a cafe popular with motorbike riders in north-west London and ending at another biker cafe south-west of the capital.

Also visible was a taxi decorated with a picture of politician Howard Cox, who is standing as London mayor, with a message that read: "Cox 4 London", as well as "Scrap Ulez", "Cut Crime" and "Ditch Khan."

Mr Cox is a candidate for Reform UK, the former Brexit party, and is lobbying to freeze fuel tax and keep petrol prices down, according to Sky News.

The extension of Ulez is aimed at reducing air pollution by charging a £12.50 daily fee to high-polluting vehicles for entering the zone.

The UK government says pollution causes the premature death of thousands of Londoners every year.

"It's not just a central London problem. In fact, the greatest number of deaths related to air pollution occur in outer London areas. That's why the Ulez is expanding across all London boroughs," reads the state-run Transport for London (TfL) website.

Opponents to the extension say it will increase expenses on their vehicles, which some cannot afford. The country is also tackling rampant inflation that has caused a sharp rise in the price of staple goods.

Ulez opponents are believed to be responsible for vandalising up to 300 enforcement cameras installed by TfL.

At a protest on Saturday in Orpington, south-east of London, Alex Hart, 65, and his wife Cheryl Hart, 61, told the Press Association they were worried they might have to spend up to £40,000 to replace their car.

Mr Hart said: “I have never protested about anything until this. I have got a car which is a Volvo C30. It’s diesel because I was told by my government that diesel was the environmentally friendly thing to do. I now have to get rid of it.

“It’s a 2010 car but it has been regularly serviced and looked after. We go on journeys to see my children in Cornwall, we have recently been to Suffolk. It’s great but now Mayor Khan is telling me to get rid of it.

“We will be without a car soon or having to pay a tax which is totally unjust.”

A representative for Mr Khan said the decision to expand Ulez was “not an easy one for the mayor to make, but necessary to tackle air pollution and the climate crisis”.

They added: “Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to toxic air, children are growing up with stunted lungs and thousands of people in our city are developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma.

“More than nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London are already compliant and will not have to pay the charge. For those with a non-compliant vehicle, the mayor has announced a major expansion to his scrappage scheme from Monday, making it available to every single Londoner impacted by Ulez.

“Ulez has already been proven to work – reducing toxic air in central London by nearly half. It is projected that Ulez will not raise any revenue within a few years as more vehicles become compliant. In the meantime, all net revenue will be reinvested back into public transport, including the expansion of bus routes in outer London.”

Updated: August 20, 2023, 12:56 PM