|Launched||8 April 2019|
|Manager||Transport for London|
The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is an area in London, England, where an emissions standard based charge is applied to non-compliant vehicles. Plans were announced by London Mayor Boris Johnson in March 2015 for the zone to come into operation in September 2020. Sadiq Khan, the subsequent mayor, introduced the zone early in 8 April 2019. The zone initially covered Central London, the same area as the existing London congestion charge.
In October 2021, the zone was extended by Khan to cover the area within the North Circular and South Circular roads. The zone has been shown to reduce the number of non-compliant cars on the road. It has been shown to reduce roadside emissions, although its effectiveness has been disputed. In 2022, the zone raised £224m. On 29 August 2023, the zone is due to be extended to cover all of Greater London.
Plans for an ultra–low emission zone were under consideration since 2014 under London Mayor Boris Johnson. In 2015 Johnson announced that the zone covering the same areas as the Central London congestion charge would come into operation in September 2020. Sadiq Khan, Johnson's successor, introduced an emissions surcharge, called the Toxicity Charge or "T-Charge", for non compliant vehicles from 2017. The Toxicity Charge was replaced by the Ultra Low Emission Zone on 8 April 2019, which was introduced ahead of schedule.
The zone was expanded to cover the Inner London area inside the North Circular and South Circular roads on 25 October 2021 so that it covers an area containing 3.8 million people. Around a million vehicles a day drive in the expanded zone, but Transport for London (TfL) estimated that 87% already complied with the emissions rules, meaning nearly 140,000 vehicles would have to be replaced or pay the charge, including 100,000 cars, 35,000 vans and 3,000 lorries.
A month into the expansion, TfL said that the proportion of compliant vehicles had risen from 87% to 92%, and the number of non compliant vehicles had fallen by over a third (from 127,000 to 80,000 on weekdays). They also said that 94% of cars complied compared to 78% of vans. Six months after the expansion, TfL estimated that NOx in Inner London was 20% lower than it would have been without the expansion and found that 95% of cars and 83% of vans now met the standard.
ULEZ is due to be expanded on 29 August 2023 to cover all 32 London boroughs, bringing an additional 5 million people into the zone. The new outer boundary will coincide with the London low emission zone. It will cover most of Greater London, with minor deviations to allow diversionary routes and facilities to turn around without entering the zone.
TfL estimates 20,000 to 40,000 vehicles will be taken off the road due to the expansion. Khan said "This is also a matter of social justice – with air pollution hitting the poorest communities the hardest. Nearly half of Londoners don’t own a car, but they are disproportionally feeling the damaging consequences polluting vehicles are causing."
The £12.50 charge applies 24 hours a day every day of the year except Christmas Day (25 December). The criteria for charging is based on European emission standards:
Buses, coaches and lorries must meet or exceed the Euro VI standard or pay £100 a day as part of the separate London low emission zone. Drivers entering central London who have paid for ULEZ are still subject to the London congestion charge.
The money raised from the ULEZ is invested in the transport network and other measures to reduce air pollution in London. In 2022 the zone raised £224m in charges and fines. The income from ULEZ declined from month to month in 2022 as more vehicles entering the zone became compliant with emissions standards.
Vehicles in the "disabled" tax class are exempt from the charge, as are London-licensed taxis, private hire vehicles which are wheelchair accessible and historic vehicles (over 40 years old). There are also exemptions for agricultural vehicles, military vehicles, certain types of mobile cranes and non-road going vehicles which are allowed to drive on the highway (e.g. excavators). Residents of the zone did not pay the charge until October 2021 as long as they were registered for the residents' Congestion Charge discount and met the T-Charge standards.
There was a scrappage scheme to help those on income support or disability benefit to get rid of their old vehicle. This was used to scrap at least 12,000 vehicles. The original scheme offered up to £7,000 compensation for a car or van which had been operating in the congestion zone, plus up to £2,500 if this was replaced by an electric vehicle.
When ULEZ was expanded beyond the congestion charge zone, the compensation was reduced to £2,000 for cars with a limit for the number of vans and initially £15,000 for heavy vehicles. The Mayor said on 14 October 2021 that there was less than £2 million left in the £61m fund. This paid out over £61m by 2022.
The rates for the scrappage scheme from 4 August 2023 were announced at the end of July 2023. Receipt of child benefit was added to the criteria for eligibility. £2,000 is offered for scrapping a car and £1,000 for a motorcycle. £5,000 is offered for wheelchair accessible vehicles to scrap or retrofit to make compliant. Part of the scrappage payment can be converted to an annual bus and tram pass. Grant payments of between £5,000 and £9,500 are available for scrappage or retrofit of vans and minibuses used by small businesses, sole traders and charities. The scheme was later widened to all Londoners and small businesses able to scrap up to three vans instead of one, taking effect from 21 August 2023.
A study from Imperial College London found the ULEZ caused smaller reductions in air pollution emissions than had been reported. It stated that there has been a longer-term downward trend in London's air pollution levels and argued that the ULEZ on its own is not an effective strategy.
The number of non compliant vehicles entering the zone each day dropped from 35,578, in March 2019, to 26,195 in April of the same year, after the charge was introduced. The number further dropped to 23,054 in July 2019. The proportion of vehicles which complied with the standards rose from 61% in March 2019 to 74% in September 2019. It further rose to 85% in December 2020, including 90% for cars, and the number of non-compliant vehicles dropped to around 12,000 (of which 4,000 were exempt from the charges).
The total number of vehicles entering Central London each day also dropped from over 102,000 in February 2017 to 89,000 in April 2019.
The planned expansion of ULEZ into outer London was cited as the reason for the Conservatives' Steve Tuckwell's victory over Labour's Danny Beales in the 2023 Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, despite substantial swings against the Conservatives in all three by-elections held the same day.
The Ultra Low Emission Zone has been described as one of the most radical anti-pollution policies in the world. A poll in April 2019 by YouGov found that 72% of Londoners supported using emissions charging to tackle both air pollution and congestion. However, the Federation of Small Businesses said that many small firms were "very worried about the future of their businesses" as a result of the "additional cost burden".
Ross Clark, writing in The Spectator, argued in 2022 the expansion disproportionately impacts poorer Londoners, who are more likely to own an older, non-compliant vehicle that will be subject to the daily charge. TfL found that 60% of those who responded to its public consultation into the expansion plans were opposed, as well as 70% of outer London residents and 80% of outer London workers.
Polling in July 2023 shows a plurality of residents say they support the existence of the ULEZ in London, with residents in Outer London evenly split.
In May 2023, a coalition of Bexley Council, Bromley Council, Harrow Council and Hillingdon Council in Greater London with neighbouring Surrey County Council received permission from the High Court for a legal challenge to the August 2023 expansion into outer London. The permitted grounds for the claim were "failure to comply with relevant statutory requirements" and "unfair and unlawful consultation". Two further grounds concerned the scrappage scheme, "whether the mayor properly considered the previous "buffer zone" approach as a material consideration" and "irrationality due to uncertainty and inadequate consultation". The hearing began on 4 July and the case was dismissed on 28 July 2023 when the outer expansion was found to be lawful.