Transport for London has begun the next stage of radically enlarging the capital’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) by installing the first of the 750 cameras that will be required to monitor vehicles entering and leaving it.
The expansion of the ULEZ, whose purpose is to deter drivers of vehicles that fall short of the required environmental standard, will see it grow beyond the Central London Congestion Charge Zone it currently covers to new boundaries formed by the North and South Circular roads.
This much larger ULEZ, scheduled to come into effect in October 2021, will be 18 times bigger the current one and TfL says it will “help all Londoners breathe cleaner air” by reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from road transport vehicles by “around 30 per cent across the whole city”.
The original ULEZ results from a policy originally devised by Boris Johnson but implemented by his successor 18 months sooner than Johnson had planned, preceded by an initial Toxicity Charge (“T-charge”). TfL says it “expects four out of five vehicles to be complaint” with the emission standard it has set by the time the enlarged zone comes into effect, but that “this relatively small number of older, more polluting, vehicles contributes disproportionately to London’s pollution”.
A campaign against the larger ULEZ, run by Waltham Forest Conservative councillor John Moss, contends that air quality would improve substantially anyway, that there are better measures for assisting this, and that Mayor Khan’s policy could impose a significant financial penalty on important workers, such as nurses and carers, who cannot afford to buy a new car.
However, the Mayor and Alex Williams, TfL’s director of city planning, point to assistance for drivers might be adversely affected in the form of a scrappage scheme “for those on low incomes, disabled Londoners, small businesses and charities to switch to cleaner vehicles and greener forms of transport”.
The scrappage scheme, which was stepped up in January, includes payments of £7,000 to incentivise van owners to buy cleaner vehicles or £9,500 if the new vans run on electricity. Eligibility for this support has also been widened to embrace companies with up to 50 employees. Previously, only those with 10 employees or fewer qualified.
TfL says that the current ULEZ has contributed to “a reduction of 44 per cent in roadside nitrogen dioxide” in the area it covers and that, as of January, “more than 80 per cent” of vehicles driven within the zone met emissions standards – an increase from 39 per cent in February 2017. There were further improvements in air quality during the coronavirus lockdown period when traffic levels plummeted, though motor vehicle use has been rising again more recently.
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