If you’ve been watching the news recently, you’ll have seen a lot about ULEZ, short for Ultra Low Emission Zone. It’s Sadiq Khan’s new scheme to decrease air pollution in central London – but what does it involve? Will it make any real difference to air quality? And what might it mean for those of us outside the capital?
The theory behind London’s ULEZ is pretty simple. In order to drive through the zone, vehicles that don’t meet a set emissions standard will have to pay a fee. For most cars, this will be £12.50, but drivers of larger vehicles like trucks will have to pay £100. The hope is that, by discouraging the driving of more polluting cars in the city, its air quality will gradually improve. This can only benefit the city’s children – who have been shown to have stunted lung capacity resulting from pollution levels – as well as older people, and those with asthma like the late Ella Kissi-Debrah.
However, not everyone is happy with the thought of paying substantial fees in such a key area of the city. On the same day it was announced, drivers and business owners took to Twitter to voice their concern, with many pointing out that they had to pass on the cost of the charge to customers, or at worst, risk bankruptcy.
Another worrying aspect of the ULEZ is the lack of exemptions. According to Transport for London’s official website, the only vehicles that will bypass the charge are black taxi cabs. Vehicles used by disabled people, or charity minibuses get a temporary grace period – but only until 2025 and 2023, respectively. Low-emission vehicles may be on the rise, but they’re still not cheap when compared to traditional petrol or diesel cars, meaning that many who would be most affected by the ULEZ simply don’t have the money to spend on upgrading their vehicles. Add this to the recent U-turn made by the government on people owning diesel cars, and it’s not hard to see why ULEZ isn’t entirely welcome.
It‘s important to note, though, that London isn’t alone in their scheme. As climate change has become a bigger social issue, countries around the world have been creating emission zones in their biggest cities. The world’s oldest was created in Stockholm in 1996, and though local truckers were initially against it – presumably for the same reasons as their London counterparts – they soon realised the positive impact it could have on their image. They even wanted the zone made bigger! Furthermore, London’s scheme may not even be the toughest. Madrid’s zero emission zone covers about the same size as the London ULEZ, and though residents are exempted, others need to drive electric cars – as they’re the only type that will get the authorisation needed to pass through.
There are also smaller version of the London ULEZ in force around the UK. For us here at WrightStart, the closest is in Nottingham. It’s less wide-ranging than the scheme in the capital, only affecting public buses, but is similarly permanent. And it’s the same story when you look at the other low emission schemes that exist around the country; though many of our major cities have implemented schemes London’s is definitely the most ambitious.
As for whether it works – well, the evidence seems to suggest so. The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) came into effect in 2008 and has led to a 40-50% reduction in the amount of black carbon, and a 2.4% (26 tonne) reduction in nitrogen dioxide – both chemicals that have been shown to affect health. A feasibility study also predicted that 310,000 cases of respiratory illness could be prevented as a result.
Overall, it’s clear that London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone will continue to draw passionate opinions from both sides. What’s more, with the increased profile of pollution and its impacts, it may not be too long before other cities have to follow London’s lead.
What are your thoughts on London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone? Do you think it will help or hinder motorists? Let us known in the comments!