London has always been notorious as the city producing some of the highest air pollution and carbon emission rates in the UK; this is why the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) scheme has been enormously necessary.
As a financial deterrent to prevent the investment in new, polluting vehicles, this has been integral in reducing these harmful rates. A new February report has revealed the transformational impact of its expansion introduced by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in 2019 to central, and later on in the year, inner London, it is effectively a daily charge applied to the highest polluting vehicles in the area.
The daily charge of £12.50 is applied to a range of vehicles including cars, vans and motorcycles, and is in place 24 hours a day, every day of the year with the exception of Christmas. Khan implemented this scheme in April 2019 in central London only, but its expansion to inner London in October of that year is the key positive that this report focuses on; expanding it to include inner London has created a dramatic decrease in air pollution, which, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), was exceeding their guidelines for air quality.
Perhaps alarmingly, a shocking statistic found in the report is that around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year because of toxic air pollutants. The expansion of the ULEZ scheme has, at a glance, resulted in the following: harmful pollution levels (HPL) have reduced by 26% within the expanded ULEZ area; HPL have reduced by nearly half (46%) in central London compared to what it would have been without the scheme; and dramatically, over 4 million people breathe cleaner air solely due to the extension to inner London. The most notable impact mentioned in the report has been on air pollutant emissions and concentrations. Nitrogen oxide emissions have been reduced by 23%, which is roughly 13,500 tonnes – these reductions occurred across all vehicle types, but were seen most in Transport for London (TfL) buses. Emissions of fine particulate matter have decreased by 7%, or 180 tonnes, since 2019. Crucially, carbon emissions produced from vehicles have reduced by an estimated 800,000 tonnes over the four-year period.
Further, alongside less air pollution, the February report has indicated that vehicles in central and inner London are significantly cleaner. 94.4% of vehicles travelling in the ULEZ zone comply with the charges, and the amount of older and thus more polluting vehicles is increasingly reducing, as well as diesel cars. The percentage of kilometres driven by diesel cars in London has reduced from 32% to 25%. In addition, another major advantage of the ULEZ is the minimisation of traffic flows. Statistics from October 2022 have shown 47,000 fewer vehicles on the road on an average day in the ULEZ zones, inching towards the levels we were seeing pre-pandemic.
Clearly, the ULEZ has worked, and following from this report Khan also announces further changes to make the scheme even more beneficial. The first of these is a scrappage system for some people on low-income or disability benefits, as well as removing the fee for auto-paying the charge. Currently this fee stands at £10, but removing this will mean even less drivers will forget to pay their daily charge and thus incur a penalty charge. But the most major and advantageous change will come in August 2023, which is when Khan plans to expand the ULEZ to include all outer London boroughs. This means the whole of London will enjoy the better air quality and health benefits created by this scheme.
With the February report proving how successful the ULEZ has been for central and inner London, it seems there is an optimistic hope for a cleaner, more sustainable London on the horizon.