London's Ultra Low Emission Zone: everything you need to know

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) could be expanding in 2023, forcing drivers of non-compliant cars to pay £12.50 a day in Greater London. Here's what the changes mean for you...

A road in the London Ultra Low Emission Zone

The London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) could be expanded for a third time next year. If the change goes ahead, some drivers will have to pay to use their cars in the entire Greater London area.

Transport for London (TfL), which operates the capital's low emission zones, wants to extend the ULEZ to cover the same area as the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) from 29 August 2023. The LEZ includes most of the roads inside the M25.

A consultation to determine the views of the public and those in relevant industries on the proposed expansion closed in July; the resulting data will inform the decision on whether it goes ahead and if it should have any limitations.

The original ULEZ came into force on 8 April 2019 and applied to vehicles entering or being driven in the London Congestion Charge zone, which covers the City and some Central London boroughs. The ULEZ was expanded on 25 October 2021 to include all roads inside the North and South Circular, stretching as far north as Palmers Green, east to Barking, west to Ealing and south to Forest Hill.

Vehicles that don’t meet Euro 6 diesel standards and petrols that don’t comply with Euro 4 attract a daily fee of £12.50 for driving in the zone. As a guide, most diesel cars registered before September 2015 will have to pay the fee, along with petrols sold from January 2006 (there are some exceptions, though).

The zone operates 24 hours a day, every day except Christmas Day, and is in addition to the £15 Congestion Charge, so owners of older cars have to pay a total of £27.50 a day to drive in the zone.

Renault Zoe long-term congestion charge zone

TfL says the expansion of the ULEZ will help tackle the capital's toxic air crisis, the climate emergency and traffic congestion. It states: "Around 4000 premature deaths in 2019 were attributed to filthy air, with the greatest number in outer London. Bromley, Barnet, Havering and Croydon were the boroughs with the highest number of early deaths, showing that poor air quality is not just a Central London problem."

TfL estimates that the proposed zone expansion goes ahead, the number of cars not meeting the standards each day in outer London will fall from 160,000 to 46,000 by the end of 2023, while the number of vans could drop from 42,000 to 26,000.

The local government body adds: 'These proposals would mean the air around an additional 145 schools, mostly in outer London, would meet the interim WHO target for nitrogen dioxide. The changes would also see a further 340,000 Londoners living in areas meeting these international health-based standards."

There is some opposition to the TfL proposals. Petitions have been started in a number of the capital's 33 boroughs, including some initiated by Conservative MPs, to demand that the ULEZ is not expanded. 

Orpington MP Gareth Bacon described the proposal as “madness”, stating: “My constituents will be appalled. People in outer London don’t have the public transport alternatives. To get around by public transport would take absolutely ages.

"If you have got an older vehicle, it’s going to cost you £4500 a year to use that car every day. That is before taxing it or putting fuel in it.”

TfL has asked the Government for £180 million for a scrappage scheme to help Londoners replace older, more polluting vehicles to avoid the levy. However, a £61m scrappage scheme set up for the suburban expansion of the ULEZ in October 2021 was oversubscribed and ran out of cash after helping about 14,000 people, according to a report by the Evening Standard.

If you’re unsure about whether your vehicle complies with the rules, you can use the dedicated TfL checker.

There are a handful of vehicles that are exempt from the ULEZ, including black cabs, agricultural vehicles, certain mobile cranes, military vehicles and classic vehicles (anything more than 40 years old that qualifies for historic vehicle tax). 

Similar clean air schemes to London's ULEZ have been implemented in other UK cities. They include schemes in Bath, Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and Oxford, with others planned for Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Sheffield. 

Which European cities have car charging zones?

Ultra low emission zone will go live in 2019

Other European cities have also introduced measures to cut pollution. In France, under the Crit-Air scheme, all vehicles entering Paris have to display a sticker of one of six different colours to show how much they pollute. If they don't have one, the driver can be fined.

Stickers are only provided for cars first registered after 1997, and older cars aren’t allowed in the city at all during the scheme's operating hours of 8am to 8pm from Monday to Friday. Scooters and motorcycles built before 2000 are also banned, along with trucks and buses built before 2001.

Anyone who wants to take their vehicle anywhere in the city inside the Périphérique ring road (similar to our M25) must order a windscreen sticker for it via the Crit-Air website. The cost is €4.80 (about £4.30) plus postage.

More than 200 European towns and cities having similar zones, spanning 10 countries. 

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