ULEZ expands to clean up London’s toxic air

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has today expanded the area covered by the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) from central London up to, but not including, the North Circular (A406) and South Circular (A205) roads.

The new zone is 18 times the size of the central London zone and now covers 3.8 million people. Measuring 380km2, it covers one quarter of London and is the largest zone of its kind in Europe. It will bring the health benefits of cleaner air to millions more Londoners, both inside and outside the newly expanded zone. The scheme will operate 24 hours a day, every day of the year except Christmas Day.

The ULEZ expansion, alongside tighter Londonwide Low Emission Zone (LEZ) standards for heavy vehicles introduced in March, is expected to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from road transport by 30% across London in 2021.

The ULEZ is also a step towards the Mayor’s ambitions to tackle the climate emergency and put London on the path to being a net-zero carbon city by 2030. It is also an issue of social justice with the poorest Londoners and Londoners from ethnic minority backgrounds least likely to own a car but also worst affected by toxic air.

An awareness campaign has been underway over the past three years to ensure drivers and businesses are ready for the ULEZ expansion, with TfL online vehicle checker being used more than 20 million times since 2018. Over a million letters have been sent to owners of non-compliant vehicles seen inside the zone.

The Mayor has provided £61 million in funding for grants for small businesses, charities operating minibuses and low-income and disabled Londoners to scrap their older, more polluting vehicles. However, unlike other Clean Air Zones, London has had no Government support for its scrappage schemes. Despite this, these schemes have helped remove over 12,000 more polluting vehicles from London’s roads, the single biggest such programme in the UK.

The existing ULEZ and the Londonwide LEZ have shown that charging to incentivise emissions reductions works and its impacts on air quality and health are rapid. Before the pandemic, there had been a 44% reduction in roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations in central London compared to in February 2017 when changes associated with the ULEZ began. The compliance rate for heavy vehicles covered by the Londonwide LEZ is 95% up, from 48% in February 2017 when the scheme was announced.

Many Londoners have already taken action to prepare ahead of today. Early indications show that 87% of vehicles travelling in the zone already meet the ULEZ standards. This is an increase in compliance compared to 39% in February 2017, when changes associated with the ULEZ began. This means Londoners are already experiencing the benefits of cleaner air. This is supported by new data, published last week by the Clean Cities Campaign, that London drivers are ditching diesel cars six times faster than the rest of the UK.

This high compliance rate also means that, as the scheme launches, it is expected only 110,000 vehicles each day are likely to need to pay the £12.50 charge. There are a number of options to avoid paying the charge, including walking, cycling, taking public transport, using shared mobility such as a car club or upgrading to a cleaner vehicle.

“This is a landmark day for our city,” said Khan. “I pledged to be the greenest Mayor London’s ever had and I am incredibly proud that expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone today will clean up London’s toxic air pollution and help tackle the global climate emergency by reducing emissions.

“In central London, the ULEZ has already helped cut toxic roadside nitrogen dioxide pollution by nearly half and led to reductions that are five times greater than the national average. But pollution isn’t just a central London problem, which is why expanding the ULEZ today will benefit Londoners across the whole of the city and is a crucial step in London’s green recovery from this pandemic.

“This is also about social justice – we know pollution hits the poorest Londoners, who are least likely to own a car, the hardest, which is why I’m doing everything I can to improve air quality and protect the health of all Londoners. I will not stand by while pollution leads to 4,000 Londoners dying early each year and our children growing up with stunted lungs. The expanded ULEZ is a vital step towards helping combat London’s illegal air and reducing the emissions that are harming our planet.”

Alex Williams, TfL’s director of city planning, said: “London’s toxic air is a crisis that requires bold action right now. The expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone is vital if we are to help prevent more premature deaths and serious health conditions, as well as tackle the pressing issue of the climate emergency. The central ULEZ that launched in April 2019 was a world first and has already seen harmful nitrogen dioxide slashed by 44%. Today’s expansion of the zone will see the whole city breathing cleaner air.

“More than 20 million motorists have already checked the compliance of their vehicle since 2018, and if you still unsure please use our checker. We are now seeing 87% vehicles in the zone meeting the standard, this is much than we would have expected if the scheme hadn’t been introduced, and it highlights how the scheme has already been effective in cleaning up London’s air.

“For those liable for the charge, we would ask them to consider walking and cycling where possible, or using public transport. If they do need to drive, car clubs with ULEZ-compliant vehicles, or switching to a cleaner vehicle, are the best options.”

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, founder of the Ella Roberta Family Foundation and World Health Organization Advocate for Health and Clean Air, said: “The coroner’s inquest into my daughter Ella’s death made clear that all levels of government must work to get dirty cars off the road, to protect human health. Children suffer the most from air pollution, as their lungs develop until they are ten. The ULEZ is helping to clean up the air that London’s children breathe from the moment they step out of their homes.”

Richard Dilks, chief executive of CoMoUK said: “The expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone is a symbiotic fit with shared transport options such as car clubs, bike and e-scooter share schemes as they all enable Londoners to step away from car ownership. Doing that cuts people’s transport emissions and costs while cleaning up London’s air and delivering more liveable neighbourhoods.”

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