London’s ultra low emissions zone (ULEZ) is due to be expanded later this year, affecting hundreds of thousands of motorists.
Despite a legal challenge from five Conservative-led councils, London mayor Sadiq Khan has said he is determined to push ahead with the expansion, which will enforce strict emissions limits on the entire city and see drivers facing charges of £12.50 a day.
The zone has already been exapanded once - in October 2021, when it was enlarged to 18 times its original size - and will grow again in August 2023 unless the councils’ legal bid is successful. The mayor’s office argues the change is vital to improving air quality and health in the capital but opponents have branded it a money-making scheme that will little effect on pollution.
Khan said the move to expand the zone was “one of the toughest decisions I’ve taken” but “public health comes before political expediency”. He said the the change would improved air quality for five million people but critics said the “heavy handed” policy would be a “hammer blow” to hundreds of thousands of struggling families and businesses.
While the new larger zone will operate from this summer, restrictions already apply to any vehicles entering the existing 140-square-mile ULEZ, with any which don’t meet strict emissions limits facing daily charges and fines for failing to pay.
What is the ULEZ?
The ULEZ is an area of London where vehicles that don’t meet certain emission standards are liable for a daily charge. The zone was created to improve air quality in the city by reducing the number of older, more polluting vehicles on the roads. The aim of expanding the zone is to cut nitrogen dioxide by around 30%.
Transport for London says the zone is designed to discourage drivers from using these vehicles and encourage them to use alternative forms of transport or switch to newer, cleaner vehicles.
Where does the ULEZ cover?
The ULEZ initially covered the same central area as London’s Congestion Charge zone but in October 2021 was expanded to cover all parts of the city within the North and South Circular roads.
It takes in all parts of the city from Haringey in the north and Southwark in the south to Newham in the east and Ealing in the west. It does not include the North and South Circulars themselves (A406 and A205, respectively).
Where will the new ULEZ cover?
From August 2023 the ULEZ will be expanded beyond the North and South Circular roads to cover the whole Greater London area, encompasing most of the area within the M25, meaning around five million people in total will live within the ULEZ.
Transport for London (TfL) estimates that on an average day about 160,000 cars and 42,000 vans that use London’s roads would be liable for the Ulez fee. Transport officials believe that by the end of next year the expansion of the scheme will have encouraged tens of thousands of drivers to switch to ULEZ-compliant vehicles or other forms of transport.
When does the ULEZ operate?
ULEZ charges apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Christmas Day is the only day the scheme is not in operation. The charge period runs from midnight to midnight, meaning that if you are in the zone before and after midnight on the same journey you will be charged for two days’ entry.
How much is the ULEZ charge?
The ULEZ charge for cars and motorbikes that don’t meet the minimum emissions standard is £12.50 per day. For lorries, coaches and other large vehicles, the charge is £100 per day.
How do I pay the ULEZ charge?
There are several ways to pay TfL for entering the ULEZ.
- Set up Auto Pay to automatically debit your account whenever you use the zone
- Pay online via the Transport for London website
- You can also use the official TfL Pay to Drive in London app. It is available from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store
- Pay by phone: UK: 0343 222 2222; International:+44 343 222 2222; Textphone: 020 7649 9123
What is the fine for failing to pay?
Failing to pay the charge for a car or motorbike currently results in a fine of £160, reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days. For larger vehicles the fine is £1,000, reduced to £500. However, the fine for cars and motorbikes is set to increase to £180 in 2023.
What cars are exempt from ULEZ charges and how to check if your car is compliant
ULEZ compliance is worked out based on a vehicle’s emissions and TfL says that 80% of vehicles in the city are compliant, including all electric vehicles.
Petrol cars must meet Euro 4 emissions standards while diesel cars must be Euro 6 compliant. In general this means petrol cars registered after 2005 and diesel cars registered after September 2015 are exempt. Motorbikes must meet Euro 3 standards, which generally means anything registered after July 2003.
However, there are exceptions so the best way to find out if your vehicle is exempt is to use the TfL checker, which can be found on the Transport for London website. Classic cars older than 40 years old are exempt as long as they are registered as “historic” with the DVLA.
Drivers can also apply for an exemption to charges if their vehicle is registered with a disabled or disabled passenger tax class. These exemptions will run until 24 October 2027. Blue Badge holders do not automatically qualify for exemption.
Patients travelling for NHS treatment and NHS staff may also qualify for a refund on any charge. Details on NHS reimbursements can be found on the TfL website.