What Is The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)? The Complete Guide


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The Ultra Low Emission Zone Is Expanding On 29th August 2023

London ULEZ zone
ULEZ Zone London

Air pollution and air quality continue to remain centre stage in the narrative of cities and town across the UK, with London continuing to take leadership in introducing legislation to reduce the negative impact of air pollution, in particular, the health risks associated with tailpipe emissions.

Since its introduction in 2019, the ULEZ zone has continued to expand, with the large major expansion in October 2021. On 25th October 2021, the ULEZ zone was expanded to create a single larger zone up to the North Circular (A406) and South Circular (A205).

However, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, believes the continued levels of high air pollution in London mandates the need to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone further. According to Mr. Khan, “As mayor, I’m not willing to turn a blind eye because it’s clear the cost of inaction — to our economy, to livelihoods, to the environment and the health of Londoners — would be a far too high a price to pay.”

The Mayor has announced that the ULEZ zone will expand further from 29th August 2023, to cover all London boroughs. The zone currently covers all areas within the North and South Circular roads. The North Circular (A406) and South Circular roads are not currently in the zone.

Air pollution in London is not a recent phenomena. In fact, the Great Smog (1952) killed 4,000 people in London. 70 years later, in late 2022, the UK government introduced Ella’s Law to combat the dangers of high level of air pollution. Ella’s law is in memory of Ella Roberta who was the first person to have ‘air pollution’ listed on her death certificate. 

According to the Transport for London, “Despite recent improvements in air quality, toxic air pollution in London remains the biggest environmental risk to the health of all Londoners, harming our lungs, and worsening chronic illness such as asthma, lung and heart disease and putting the health of our children at risk”. Road transport accounts for 28% of carbon emissions in London.

As of 2022, 94% of the vehicles operating within the zone meet the standards of the ULEZ zone, which has resulted in 20% lower air pollution (NO2) in inner London. In central London NO2 concentrations are estimated to be 44% lower. The expansion of the zone will help further reduce the number of vehicles that do not meet the ULEZ standard travelling in the zone. According to forecasts from the Mayor’s office: cars not meeting the standard are expected to fall from 160,000 to 46,000 per day. The number of vans not meeting the standard will fall from 42,000 to 26,000 per day. The expansion of the ULEZ zone is expected to reduce vehicles by 2%.

For those driving electric cars, the good news is the EVs will continue to remain exempt from the ULEZ charge. For those new to electric driving, in general, EVs have far lower tailpipe emissions compared to conventional petrol or diesel cars. In fact, pure electric cars, also known as battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) have zero-tailpipe emissions. Put another way, a BEV has not tailpipe or exhaust. One of the many advantages of driving electric cars is the improvement in local air quality.

Though ULEZ applies primarily to cars, motorcycles, vans and specialist vehicles (up to and including 3.5 tonnes) and minibuses (up to and including 5 tonnes), the local government also operates the LEZ scheme for lorries, vans or specialist heavy vehicles (over 3.5 tonnes) and buses, minibuses or coaches (over 5 tonnes). TfL offers a vehicle checker on their website to check if your vehicle qualifies for the ULEZ exemption.

We should expect many more cities and towns across the UK to adopt a similar low mission zone. Bottom-line, the sooner we migrate to zero-tailpipe emission electric driving, the better for us all!

ULEZ London
ULEZ Expanded Zone From 29th August 2023 (credit: TfL)

ULEZ: Quick Facts
Why ULEZ?Put simply it is a charge to discourage the use of older polluting vehicles that do not meet emission standards entering the ULEZ zone. It is very similar to the Congestion Charge that has been in place in central London since February 2003. The main objective of the ULEZ is to improve air quality. The ultimate objective of ULEZ is to reduce toxic air in the capital and its negative impact on the health of the residents of the city.
When did the ULEZ charge come into effect?The ULEZ charge came into force on Monday 8th April 2019.
Who introduced the ULEZ scheme?It was initially proposed by Boris Johnson in 2014, the then London Mayor. The original date of introduction was 2020, however, the incumbent London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, moved it forward by a year to 2019.
Which vehicles are affected by the ULEZ charge?The ULEZ charge is enforced based on the declared emissions of the vehicle rather than the age of the vehicle. Most petrol vehicles that were registered with the DVLA after 2005 meet the standard. In the case of diesel it is usually vehicles that have been registered after September 2015. The charge is enforced on both cars and vans. There is no charge for electric vehicles, to include, electric cars, like the all-electric Tesla Model 3 and electric vans.
What are the emission standards?Euro standards have now been in use for sometime. The Euro 3 standard for new motorcycles have been mandatory since 2007. All new cars have been obligated to comply with the Euro 4 standard since 2005 and light vans since 2006:
— Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles (L category).
— Euro 4 (NOx) for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles.
— Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles.
When did the ULEZ charge come into effect?The ULEZ charge came into force on Monday 8th April 2019.
What is the ULEZ charge?The charge is £12.50 a day for most vehicle types including cars, motorcycles and vans (up to and including 3.5 tonnes).
What are ULEZ operating times?ULEZ is now in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days of the year (except Christmas day).
Who operates the ULEZ?Transport for London (TfL), who also operate the Congestion Charge.
How do I know if my vehicle meets the ULEZ emission standards?You can find out if your vehicle meets the emission standards required for the ULEZ zone on the TfL website.
How does TfL know that I have driven in the ULEZ zone?Though there are no barriers that indicate the entry into the ULEZ zone, the local government has installed signposts and road signs across the ULEZ zone to inform drivers. Moreover, cameras have also been installed across the zone to read the vehicle number plates driven through the zone. The cameras also operate 24/7.
Is there a penalty charge for those vehicles that do not comply with the emission standards, but have not paid the ULEZ charge when driven in the zone?Yes. The penalty charge is £160 but reduced to £80, if paid within 14 days.

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Ashvin Suri

Ashvin has been involved with the renewables, energy efficiency and infrastructure sectors since 2006. He is passionate about the transition to a low-carbon economy and electric transportation. Ashvin commenced his career in 1994, working with US investment banks in New York. Post his MBA from the London Business School (1996-1998), he continued to work in investment banking at Flemings (London) and JPMorgan (London). His roles included corporate finance advisory, M&A and capital raising. He has been involved across diverse industry sectors, to include engineering, aerospace, oil & gas, airports and automotive across Asia and Europe. In 2010, he co-founded a solar development platform, for large scale ground and roof solar projects to include, the UK, Italy, Germany and France. He has also advised on various renewable energy (wind and solar) utility scale projects working with global institutional investors and independent power producers (IPP’s) in the renewable energy sector. He has also advised in key international markets like India, to include advising large-scale industrial and automotive group in India. Ashvin has also advised Indian Energy, an IPP backed by Guggenheim (a US$ 165 billion fund). He has also advised a US$ 2 billion, Singapore based group. Ashvin has also worked in the real estate and infrastructure sector, to including working with the Matrix Group (a US$ 4 billion property group in the UK) to launch one of the first few institutional real estate funds for the Indian real estate market. The fund was successfully launched with significant institutional support from the UK/ European markets. He has also advised on water infrastructure, to include advising a Swedish clean technology company in the water sector. He has also been involved with a number of early stage ventures.

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