London to expand its ultra low emission zone next year

From August the area will cover almost all of the UK capital’s nine million residents

An information sign at Tower Hill in central London for the Ultra Low Emission Zone. PA
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London will expand its Ultra Low Emission Zone next year to the city’s outer reaches, covering almost all of the capital’s nine million residents.

The zone — or ULEZ — currently covers the city’s central and inner boroughs, requiring anyone with an older higher-emitting car to pay £12.50 ($15.1) a day to drive in it, or face a £160 fine.

But next August it will be expanded to the entire Greater London area.

“We need to be tackling air pollution, we need to be tackling the climate emergency and we need to be tackling congestion,” Mayor Sadiq Khan said.

“The expansion will mean that from August next year, more than five million Londoners will be breathing cleaner air.”

The number of fully electric vehicles has increased more than four-fold, and the proportion of diesel cars dropped by more than a quarter since the introduction of the ULEZ.

Uber now does a greater share of trips with EVs in London than in any other major city.

And London’s air quality — which was much worse than comparably sized cities, including New York and Madrid — is now on par with them.

Plans to expand ULEZ were first unveiled earlier this year, amid criticism it will raise costs for poorer residents who will struggle to afford newer, cleaner vehicles. Several outer London boroughs opposed the move during a consultation period.

An initiative to offer money to scrap polluting cars will be relaunched, with a new pot of £110 million available for eligible drivers to claim a grant or free public transport.

Extra bus routes also will be introduced in affected areas, and disabled drivers will be exempt until October 2027.

The zone was first introduced over a smaller central area in April 2019 and expanded in October of last year to improve air quality.

The fees generally apply to petrol-fuelled vehicles made before 2005 and diesel cars made before 2015. Older goods vehicles, motorbikes and minibuses also are affected.

Data collected by the mayor’s office and analysed by academics at Imperial College London suggest the ULEZ has led to a significantly lower level of particulate and nitrogen dioxide emissions than otherwise would have been expected.

About 44,000 fewer non-compliant cars are driven in central London on an average day as a result of the policy, according to Elliot Treharne, the city’s assistant director of transport.

Mr Khan said he considered delaying the decision to expand the ULEZ and likely would have done so had the Greater London Authority not been able to find extra money for the scrappage fund.

“According to independent experts, there is no other scheme in the world — and we’ve looked far and wide — to see the level of improvements in air that we’ve seen in such a short period of time as a direct consequence of the Ultra Low Emission Zone,” he said.

Updated: November 25, 2022, 1:15 PM