At the beginning of 2020, nobody could have imagined how quiet the streets of London would become for most of the year. COVID-19 had a dramatic effect on every aspect of daily life, including our environment. Better air quality has been one of the few benefits of the pandemic, but it’s already disappearing as people head back to the city.
Road emissions are the most dangerous source of pollution threatening the health of Londoners. The government’s response to this is to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) as a way of rapidly reducing emissions and protecting the health of the city’s residents. On 25 October 2021, the ULEZ is due to expand beyond Central London into a single larger zone.
ULEZ and a Greener London
London’s air pollution is a serious concern for those with asthma, and it also increases the risk of dementia, cancer and premature deaths. This is why the mayor, Sadiq Khan, introduced the Ultra Low Emission Zone in April 2019 to improve air quality. ULEZ operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except Christmas Day and covers the same area as the Congestion Charge zone. If vehicles (including cars, vans and motorbikes) don’t meet the set emission standards, they have to pay a daily fee.
ULEZ exhaust emissions standards set limits for air-polluting nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) from engines. They follow the ‘Euro standards’ launched in 1992. Petrol vehicles require a Euro 4 engine to comply, while diesel vehicles need a Euro 6 engine. As a general rule, petrol vehicles first registered after 2005 do not have to pay the ULEZ charge.
If all of this sounds confusing, the easiest thing to do is check your vehicle online to see if it meets the correct emissions and safety standards. All you need to do is enter your number plate and country of registration.
A report in October 2019 noted how the ULEZ had cut toxic air pollution by a third. In 2020, the extended lockdowns of the pandemic further reduced nitrogen dioxide levels by 31% along London’s roads in just nine weeks. They were cut even more dramatically by up to two thirds in some areas, such as the Beech Street tunnel in Barbican.
As the city opens up again, emissions are returning to pre-lockdown levels at an alarming rate. Some areas, such as Tower Hamlets, Camden and Bloomsbury, are already back to pre-COVID pollution levels. The ULEZ expansion will spread beyond Central London to the boundaries of the North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road (A205) – hopefully lowering pollution rates once again.
While ULEZ is great news for the environment and people with health vulnerabilities, it might be less welcome by drivers. The daily ULEZ charge is £12.50 for most motorbikes, cars and vans up to and including 3.5 tonnes. However, larger vehicles, such as lorries and buses, have to pay a hefty £100 per day. Of course, if you meet the ULEZ emissions standards you won’t have to pay a daily charge.
Exemptions and discounts are available for residents, not-for-profit organisations and taxi drivers, among others. While most small businesses want to adopt greener business practices, they require more time and support to prepare and upgrade their vehicles ahead of the ULEZ expansion.
Scrappage schemes have been launched to help small businesses, charities and low-income Londoners replace outdated vehicles with greener forms of transport. There are grants of £1,000-£2,000 for London residents with cars and motorbikes. Applications for minibuses, vans and heavy vehicles are currently suspended due to high demand and limited funds.
Save your environment and your wallet
Driving in London is becoming extremely costly. On top of the ULEZ charge, you could also be hit with a daily £15 Congestion Zone charge between 7am and 10pm – and that’s not even considering the expenses of petrol and parking. Commuters are looking at potentially spending more than £500 a month just to get to work.
If you’re not a resident but still drive to London frequently, there is a way to avoid the new charges. You could park outside the ULEZ and get the train or underground into Central London. Stashbee and other similar companies rent out short- and long-term parking spaces for a flat fee. This gives you a guaranteed space – sometimes in a secure garage – night and day without any hidden fees. You can find these private rental spaces all around London’s ULEZ boundaries in places like Brent, Ilford, Richmond, Tooting and Dulwich. So if you bag a space near an Underground station, you’re all set!
If you want to save hassle and money, now is the time to prepare for the ULEZ expansion. Both the environment and your wallet will thank you.