8 April 2019

The perfect storm helps clean up London’s air quality

As I write this note, the Ultra Low Emission Zone – better known as ULEZ – has come into force in London.

At the same time, the uncertainty over the UK’s exit from Europe - Brexit - has reached a crisis point, with Prime Minister Teresa May being talked of as less than useful and skilled in handling the most critical vote and political action seen in Europe since the Second World War.

How are these related? Well, not as much as one might think; Transport for London (TFL) - the governing body of the transport infrastructure of the city - has acted independently of Europe to try to clean up the quite severe air pollution in the metropolis. The new zone will affect over 2.5 million vehicles in London each year and costing drivers of non-compliant vehicles £12.50 ($16.3) a day.

The ULEZ is an area of central London where larger, more polluting vehicles are forced to pay a daily charge to use the roads, starting on April 8.

This new zone has replaced the T-Charge, which was introduced in 2017 to limit the use of vehicle types that did not meet the minimum Euro 4 emission standards.

Most vehicles, including cars and vans, will need to meet new exhaust emission standards or be liable for the daily charge to drive within the ULEZ area.

The ULEZ will affect pre-Euro 6 diesel vehicles - built before 2016 - and pre-Euro 4 petrol vehicles built before 2006. Non-Euro 3 motorcycles will also be affected.

Euro VI-compliant trucks, buses and coaches built before 2014 will also be hit by the ULEZ. Drivers of these vehicles will need to pay £100 to enter the zone – or be fined £1,000.

For the first two years, the ULEZ will cover the existing London Congestion Charge Zone, but is set to engulf most of the city in the future. By 2021 the ULEZ will extend to the North and South Circular Boundary (the belt road running around central London, not to be confused with the M25 highway/motorway that runs around greater London).

Befitting the unrelenting nature of air pollution - it does not significantly subside during the night or with changing weather conditions - the zone is enforced all day, every day throughout the year.

Of course, with the emergence of clean, efficient mobility services, more electric and hybrid vehicles and perhaps more car sharing, we may expect to see a steep decline in petrol, diesel and even vehicle ownership but the ULEZ should be looked at carefully by other cities around the world, as an example of how positive legislative action can improve our living standards and also stimulate research and development in better ways of moving people and goods.

And all this without interference from Europe…


Simon Duval Smith

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