London’s ultra low emission zone to cover entire city next year

LONDON – London will charge motorists citywide to drive more polluting vehicles, expanding a policy that’s improved air quality and accelerated the transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

Drivers of older, higher-emitting cars have been charged £12.50 (S$21) a day to drive in the Ultra Low Emission Zone that spans London’s central and inner boroughs, and those who fail to pay are fined £160.

The policy will extend to the city’s outer reaches in August, affecting about 15 per cent of vehicles in the area newly becoming part the zone.

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

Since the Ultra Low Emission Zone, or ULEZ, was put in place three years ago, the number of licenced fully electric vehicles in London has increased more than four-fold, and the proportion of diesel cars has dropped by more than a quarter. 

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.

Mr Khan first announced plans to expand the ULEZ earlier this year.

He drew criticism that it will raise costs for poorer residents who will struggle to afford newer, cleaner vehilces. 

Several outer London boroughs opposed the move during a consultation period.

While Mr Khan called expanding the ULEZ “one of the toughest decisions I’ve taken since I’ve been a politician”, he said he’s “not willing to allow political expediency to trump public health”.

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

The expansion brings almost all of London’s 9 million residents into the zone, which was first introduced over a smaller central area in April 2019 and expanded in October of last year. 

The fees generally apply to gas-powered vehicles made before 2005 and diesel cars made before 2015. Older goods vehicles, motorcycles and minibuses also are affected.