ULEZ expansion claims to clean London’s dirty air
The ULEZ will expand next year as campaigners urge tougher measures in order to tackle pollution. What will it mean for the city?
London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), the traffic charging scheme targeting diesel and other worst polluting vehicles, is due to be significantly expanded next year as the capital steps up efforts to reduce harmful emissions and improve air quality for its inhabitants.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, who had previously committed to making the UK’s capital a zero carbon city by 2050, has now vowed to achieve this target by 2030 if re-elected. The ULEZ should play a significant part in helping London achieve this goal, although all emissions and congestion charges are currently suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.
The existing ULEZ introduced in April 2019 covers the central London congestion charge zone. Later this year Transport for London (TfL) is due to implement tougher standards for heavier vehicles, including van and lorries over 3.5 tonnes, and buses and coaches over 5 tonnes, in the existing Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which covers the Greater London Authority region stretching as far as the M25 in some directions.
After just 11 months 13,500 fewer cars now enter the ULEZ on a daily basis and there’s been a 40% reduction in older, more polluting vehicles. This has resulted in a 36% reduction of roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions and contributed to tackling climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions linked to road transport by 4%.
“This is a good first step,” said Sotiris Vardoulakis, Professor of Global Environmental Health at the Australian National University. “But the road is still long — air pollution from vehicles is strongly linked with mortality and we need to take all necessary measures to ensure London’s air comes to compliance with legal limits.”
Air pollution contributes to up to 9,400 extra deaths per year in the capital, according to research by King’s College London. The premature deaths can be attributed to two key pollutants produced by petrol and diesel engines: fine particulates, known as PM2.5s, and NO2, an air pollutant linked to lung cancer, cardiovascular harm and increased risk of premature death. Diesel vehicles alone produce nearly 40% of all London’s NO2 emissions.
It is essential to take action on the capital’s dirty air, Deputy Mayor for Environment, Shirley Rodrigues, told the Evening Standard before the coronavirus pandemic. “The ULEZ is the centrepiece of our plans to clean up London’s air — the boldest plans of any city on the planet — and it is exceeding expectations, reducing harmful nitrogen dioxide pollution by almost a third in the central London zone.”
Sarah Vero, 36, a communications professional, decided to get rid of her car in August and embraced cycling after driving for almost 12 years. Speaking before the coronavirus outbreak, she explained that she viewed the scheme as “a good thing that might have inconvenienced a lot of people”.
“[It is] the beginning of the changes we will all have to make to tackle climate change. We need to all start thinking about our environmental footprint”. Sarah said she was urging her mother to swap her current diesel car for something greener. “My mum’s diesel car is affected by the ULEZ so I am trying to persuade her to get an electric.”
“I need the car to go to meetings in residential areas where public transport is not convenient. With my diesel car I was paying silly money for fuel and road tax, around £180 per month, whereas now I only pay around £20 per month to re-charge my electric car,” he said.