Opinion Former Article

Concern that London’s ULEZ does not go far enough

The ULEZ requires drivers of vehicles that do not meet strict emissions standards to pay to enter central London. Replacing the former Toxicity Charge, the zone will be in force all day, every day and operate in addition to the existing Congestion Charge.

Daily charges apply for petrol vehicles below Euro 4 standards and diesel vehicles below Euro 6, with some exceptions. Non compliant cars, vans and motorbikes pay £12.50 while lorries, buses and coaches are charged £100.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “Our toxic air is an invisible killer responsible for one of the biggest national health emergencies of our generation. The ULEZ is the centrepiece of our plans to clean up London’s air – the boldest plans of any city on the planet, and the eyes of the world are on us.”

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Darren Shirley said: “With two million Londoners living in areas which currently exceed legal limits for air pollution, the ULEZ is a vital element in tackling the deadly levels of dirty air in London.”

Think tank Centre for London’s research manager Silviya Barrett agreed that the ULEZ is “an important and much needed environmental measure”, but emphasised its limitations.

“It will have limited impact on some forms of pollutants and on reducing overall car usage; some argue small businesses and those on lower incomes will be adversely affected; and, being a flat charge, it may perversely incentivise people to drive more to get value from their payments,” she said.

Advocating an advanced system of road pricing, she called for the Mayor of London to embrace new technology and charge road users for the true costs of their journeys.

Plans are in place to expand the ULEZ boundary from October 2021 to create a larger zone, bordered by the capital’s north and south circular roads. But consultant AECOM’s head of UK transport planning Colin Black said: “Reducing emissions through ULEZs doesn’t go far enough.

“We urgently need a broader strategy to address the continued surge in van traffic predicted, and to facilitate significant reallocation of street space to create better places to improve quality of life for everyone that lives, works and travels through our cities.”

Campaign group Clean Air London’s director Simon Birkett called the ULEZ “another important step on the path to banning diesel vehicles in London”, but urged the Mayor to make it “bigger, stronger and smarter”, including introducing emissions based road charging.

He also encouraged monitoring along busy roads and providing a phone number or app for people to report smoky and idling vehicles. This should be complemented by investment in public transport and active travel, he added.

Battery storage company Zenobe Energy’s co-founder Steven Meersman also welcomed the ULEZ. “However partnerships between Government bodies, public transport networks, operators and private companies must occur,” he said, to leverage existing charging infrastructure and create a joined up, affordable, green powered transport framework for Londoners.

Other commentators are worried that businesses and freight hauliers are not receiving enough support to ensure compliance with the ULEZ. The Mayor of London claims that thousands of motorists have already changed their behaviour in preparation for ULEZ, with the proportion of compliant vehicles entering central London having increased by 55% since the start of 2017.

However Confederation of British Industry’s London director Eddie Curzon said smaller firms may struggle to afford the switch to low emission vehicles. “To make a success of the ULEZ, it is crucial that City Hall works with firms to help them take advantage of new technologies and support them, where required, to accelerate the take up of low emission vehicles.”

The Freight Transport Association’s head of urban policy Natalie Chapman highlighted a van scrappage scheme launched by the Mayor to help ‘micro businesses’ comply with ULEZ standards. “But the same level of assistance should be available to all responsible for delivering goods, raw materials and services to London’s business community,” she said.

The Road Haulage Association’s chief executive Richard Burnett added that the prospect of having to pay an extra £100 per day could mean “financial ruin” for many operators.

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