The London ULEZ expansion: will London go electric?
The London ULEZ is expanding as of 29th August 2023. Transport for London are doing this to “help clear London’s air” and “improve health” by lowering toxic fumes in our capital.
But what is the ULEZ? How does the ULEZ impact people and what cars are affected? Read on to find out as we discuss whether the next huge step in the capital’s transport transformation will encourage residents to go electric…
What is the London ULEZ?
So, we’ve established it’s expanding, but what exactly is the London ULEZ?
A ULEZ – or ‘ultra-low-emission-zone’ – is a designated area usually within a large town or city that penalises drivers of vehicles which don’t meet the set emissions standards for that area. It’s not a complete restriction as such, because you can still pay to get in, but you’ll be charged if your vehicle doesn’t meet the requirements (so it’s always best to check first).
The London ULEZ previously covered most of central London but, as of 29th August, this will expand to cover nearly all of Greater London too, meaning all vehicles that travel within the circumference of the M25 (bar a few exceptions, see below) will need to meet the emissions standards or face the charge.
In London, there are also two other sets of zones to consider: the Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ) and Low Emission Zone (LEZ). Note, the LEZ is not the same as the ULEZ and has different restrictions. Here’s a breakdown:
- See full list of congestion charge exemptions here and apply for the discount if you drive a BEV
- See full LEZ details here
- See full ULEZ details here
In all cases, if you don’t drive your vehicle in the zone (and it remains stationary for the full 24-hour period), you won’t need to pay the applicable charge. Congestion charge and ULEZ will both need to be paid if you drive into both zones.
It’s also important to remember to set up autopay/book in advance otherwise you may face a penalty fare.
Where is the London ULEZ?
Here’s a map of where the London ULEZ is now and where it will be expanding to from 29 August 2023:
Source: Transport for London
Previously, the London ULEZ only went as far as the north and south circular roads. As of August this year, it’ll expand as far as the M25 in some places.
The 2023 London ULEZ changes
The expansion of the zone, should it go ahead, means that suburbs like Uxbridge in the north-west down to Biggin Hill in the south-east will now be affected. If you’re a Londoner, or a frequent visitor, you can see if your area is affected on the TFL website.
The changes are only geographical while the restrictions within the zone remain the same: your car must meet Euro 4 standard (if petrol) or Euro 6 standards (if diesel). Vans, motorbikes, lorries and larger vehicles have different restrictions. Some people with disabilities, including those with wheelchair accessible vehicles, may be able to apply for a grace period in order to avoid the ULEZ charges until October 2027 though this is not guaranteed.
NHS patients deemed too ill to travel on public transport can reclaim the ULEZ charges back should your hospital tell you you’re eligible. London licenced taxis are also exempt from ULEZ charges with Transport for London vowing to have the cleanest taxi fleet in the world.
Some people think the ULEZ is enforced based on the vehicles age, but this isn’t true. The ULEZ is based on emissions. That said, Transport for London do say:
- “Petrol cars that meet the ULEZ standards are generally those first registered with the DVLA after 2005, although cars that meet the standards have been available since 2001”
- “Diesel cars that meet the standards are generally those first registered with the DVLA after September 2015”
Electric cars are fully exempt from the ULEZ charges as they’re zero emission in an attempt by the Mayor of London to clean up London’s air.
Will London go electric?
“Toxic air pollution is a matter of life and death”
We put one of our electric cars into the TFL ULEZ vehicle checker and got this reply:
You do not need to pay a daily ULEZ charge to drive in the zone and are helping to improve air quality across London.
We liked that, “helping to improve air quality across London”. Because that’s the sole point of the ULEZ, to improve air quality. It’s not a push to get everyone driving an electric car specifically per se – it’s just that’s the best, most useable, most sustainable option available right now.
So the big question: will it actually encourage more people to go electric? Well, figures suggest Londoners already are. Even in the middle of last year, more EVs were being bought in London than diesel vehicles.
More recently, with figures released by the SMMT, it suggests battery-electric-vehicles are only becoming more and more mainstream with an 18.6% increase in EV registrations in the UK since last year alone (that’s compared to a 19% decrease in diesel sales). Even the top selling car in March this year was an EV, the Tesla Model Y.
A Tesla Model Y – the UKs most registered car in March 2023.
On the ULEZ expansion, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:
“The Ultra Low Emission Zone has been transformational, helping to reduce harmful nitrogen dioxide pollution by nearly half in central London. But there is still far too much air pollution permanently damaging the health of Londoners. The greatest number of premature deaths due to toxic air are in outer London areas. Expanding the ULEZ across all London boroughs will help give five million more people cleaner air to breathe too. Expanding the ULEZ has not been an easy decision, but there’s no time to waste when people’s lives are at risk.”
Is electric the only way?
Some people are concerned though, saying that this will alienate those who can’t afford to go electric. To combat this, the Mayor of London has also released a £110 million scrappage scheme that will offer eligible residents the chance to retrofit or replace their non-ULEZ compliant vehicles for those that meet the ULEZ standards – though, their replacement doesn’t need to be electric.
TFL says “9 out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London already meet the ULEZ emissions standards”, so these changes to the ULEZ won’t make everyone suddenly switch overnight – far from it. And it seems as though the expansion was designed to be that way, to avoid disruption for those that rely on their cars.
They also say, “any money received from the scheme is reinvested into running and improving London’s transport network, such as expanding bus routes in outer London”. This focus on putting more money and thought into public transport is an important factor too, with Londoners encouraged to walk, cycle or catch the bus over driving their car in the city.
But attitudes toward zero emission vehicles in general are changing for the better, especially since the sad passing of Ella Kissi-Debrah who was the first person to have ‘air pollution’ cited as a cause of death.
Ella lived in south London, which has prompted her mother to push for Ella’s Law. It seems their concern is valid, with a recent report highlighted by the BBC explaining that air pollution causes harm at all stages of life: from infertility to stunting growth and causing chronic illnesses, like cancer, and strokes.
More of us are coming around to the idea that going zero emission is not a fantasy, it’s a necessity. We are seriously damaging our planet and each other. Unless manufacturers and scientists can create affordable, sustainable fuels and engines that are just as environmentally friendly as the electric motor day-to-day, electric cars are the future whether we like it or not.
Of course, that doesn’t negate the affordability issue. Those affected by the ULEZ may not even consider an all-electric car because of the connotations of them being too expensive and not useable every day, with range anxiety for example. Though, that’s where an electric car subscription could come in use for those Londoners who can’t/don’t want to buy one outright or be tied into huge contracts all just because of the ULEZ changes.
One thing is for sure: electric cars are a huge part of our zero-emission future…
So, will London go electric? Certainly not overnight and possibly, not completely at all. But one thing is for sure: electric cars are a huge part of our zero-emission future and EV sceptics are starting to understand the benefits. London isn’t being imposed the ultra-low-emission-zone expansion just to get everyone immediately out of their old diesels for the sake of it; it’s purely to improve our quality of life and stop deaths like Ella’s becoming common.
As high-flying businesspeople might say, ‘it’s not personal, it’s professional’.
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