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…

A ULEZ signpost in London


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:

Congestion charge zone
Costs £15.00 per day
Operates every day, apart from over the festive period, at different times depending on it being a weekday/weekend
All vehicles required to pay apart from BEVs and Hydrogen fuel cell cars (until December 2025) but you must apply for the discount
Specifically designed to reduce congestion in the very central part of London
Low Emission Zone
Between £100-£300 per day
Operates all year round, 24 hours a day
Only affects heavy polluting vehicles like HGVs and coaches
Designed to ‘clean up’ the most polluting heavy diesel vehicles
Ultra Low Emission Zone
Costs £12.50 per day
Operates every day, 24 hours a day, except Christmas day
Affects cars, motorcycles, vans & specialist vehicles (up to and including 3.5 tonnes) and minibuses (up to and including 5 tonnes)
Expanding in August 2023 to ‘clean up’ London’s air for everyone

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:

A map of the London ULEZ expansion happening in August 2023. It shows the congestion charge zone, the existing ULEZ and the new ULEZ expansion on a map of London and beyond.
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 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.

A Tesla Model Y parked in the desert.

Why is the London ULEZ divisive?

The expansion of London’s ULEZ has sparked debate among both politicians and individuals, and has met some opposition. 

Following a legal challenge by five councils led by the Conservative party against the proposals of the Labour mayor of London, the High Court has determined that the expansion of the ULEZ is in accordance with the law.

Advocates for clean air are naturally in favour of the expansion. However, there are concerns expressed by certain residents, businesses, and politicians. These concerns are mostly regarding the financial strain in the midst of rising living costs and the relatively short nine-month notice period provided.

Some individuals directly impacted by the expansion are also sceptical about the effectiveness of the scrappage scheme designed to assist them. Additionally, the prices of pre-owned vehicles compliant with ULEZ standards have surged. As for whether the ULEZ expansion hits the least fortunate the hardest, is a complex discussion. The BBC has effectively summarised and explained in detail many of the claims made by ULEZ expansion opponents.

Legal action was initiated by five councils under Conservative governance against the decision to extend ULEZ, yet the High Court rejected their opposition. The Mayor has stood by the plan, contending that it’s imperative for averting health issues linked to air pollution and even potential fatalities. 

What difference has the existing London ULEZ made?

Back in 2008, London introduced its first low-emission zones to tackle traffic-related particle pollution on busy suburban roads – and it actually worked pretty well.

Then in 2012, the expansion of the zones led to even more improvements, especially when compared to areas outside the city. But the downside was that progress started to slow down and became a bit hit-and-miss. In fact, they figured it would take London a whole 193 years to get its act together and meet those legal pollution limits. 

Enter the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) in 2017 and jump ahead to October 2022, nitrogen dioxide from traffic has been cut by 46%. The number of older, polluting vehicles driving into the ULEZ has decreased dramatically – with 97% of them now meeting cleaner standards. Central London has also benefited from a 21% boost in air quality.

While all of this is positive, it’s a different story when you take a step back. All Londoners still live in areas that exceed the World Health Organization guidelines for both nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5 emissions (pollution from fine particulates).

A Tesla Model Y parked in the desert.

Will London go electric?

“Toxic air pollution is a matter of life and death”

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan

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 a 28.3% increase in EV registrations in the UK since last year alone (that’s compared to a a 23.1% decrease in diesel sales).

A Tesla Model Y parked in the desert.
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.”

A Tesla Model Y parked in the desert.

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 also released a £110 million scrappage scheme that offers 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. More recently, the scheme has been increased to £160 million, and extended to all Londoners.  

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’.

Young man driving an electric car

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