London mayor plans to expand low emission zone to whole city

The mayor of London has announced plans to expand the low emission zone across the whole of the capital, in a move designed to clean the city’s air but that would require millions of motorists to pay to use their vehicles.

The ultra-low emission zone, or Ulez, in which older vehicles are charged £ 12.50 a day to use the roads, was expanded to the north and south circular, but excluding the ring road itself, last October.

Sadiq Khan said on Friday he had asked Transport for London, the capital’s transport authority, to consult on widening the zone to the whole of Greater London next year to help the capital meet its emissions target of being net zero by 2030.

The new Ulez would be more than four times its current area, stretching from Heathrow airport to Upminster and Enfield to Biggin Hill.

The mayor’s office did not say how many people would face charges under the extension but TfL estimates that 82.5 per cent of vehicles in outer London are Ulez-compliant.

The proposed extension would not include charges on the M25 even though some parts of the motorway are in Greater London.

The proposal comes after the Ulez extension in October raised less money than expected for TfL, which has seen its finances hit by a slump in public transport passenger numbers during the pandemic.

The capital’s transport operator has received four emergency funding injections since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and have been forced to raise fares after a five-year freeze, with the latest £ 200mn of financial support set to last until June.

Khan said the proposed Ulez expansion was intended to help reduce pollution, rather than be a revenue-raising measure, highlighting that outer areas of London have higher death rates from diseases linked to poor air quality.

“Despite the world-leading progress we have made over the last few years, there is still far too much toxic air pollution permanently damaging the lungs of young Londoners and leading to thousands of deaths every year,” he said.

“Nearly half of Londoners do not own a car, but they are disproportionately feeling the damaging consequences polluting vehicles are causing.”

In a speech on Friday, Khan promised “as big a scrappage scheme as it is feasible” to help motorists get rid of older vehicles and into newer models. But he recognized that such a scheme would require central government funding.

Under the Ulez rules, petrol cars with a Euro 3 engine or earlier, roughly those built before 2006, and diesel cars that have Euro 5 engine or earlier, roughly pre-2015, must pay the charge. Motorbikes that have Euro 2 engines, roughly pre-2007, and buses, coaches and lorries with Euro 5 engines also have to pay.

The aim is to push road users into newer, less-polluting vehicles, particularly electric cars, or to shift them to using other forms of transport, such as cycling, public transport or car clubs.

However, AutoTrader, the UK’s largest online car marketplace, said searches for electric cars were still concentrated in the capital’s narrowest districts, such as Kensington and Hampstead.

“Unless there are some financial incentives, the majority of people just won’t be able to afford to make the switch at the moment,” said commercial director Ian Plummer.

About 18 per cent of cars sold in the UK last month were electric, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders released on Friday.

The trade body also called on the government to scrap the 20 per cent value added tax levied on public car chargers, which affects people who want to buy electric cars but do not own driveways.

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