As leaflets roll out highlighting the forthcoming Ultra Low Emission Zone in London many people seem to be up in arms – without much idea what it actually means if social media is any guide (I know…). Boris Johnson proposed a ULEZ scheme in 2014 and it’s now being expanded in October this year to areas within the north and south circular roads.
Firstly, the vast majority of vehicles are exempt. You can check here. All petrol cars built over the past 16 years when the scheme is switched on are exempt, with many cars up to 20 years old also not listed to pay. For petrol vans it’ll be 15 years old and newer that are exempt. Black cabs are also exempt.
Diesel is another matter though vans newer than five years are not liable to pay and only older polluting vehicles will pay as diesel fumes cause greater damage to public health costing the NHS large sums.
Those that do pay will see a £12.50 charge.
This gets us onto the “money maker” angle. Well, if it is then it’s not much of one. TfL now predict just £35 million in annual revenue according to a December 2020 report, which is a pretty small amount of their overall budget. For the first stage of ULEZ, the compliant rate increased from 39 per cent in 2017 to 77 per cent in 2019. The rate of growth is clear and results in relatively small income totals post October 2021.
Savings in healthcare will vastly exceed that number – though of course that doesn’t benefit TfL directly.
One example of pollution related cost – both in terms of health and financial – is Brent which sees high levels of diesel related pollution. The proportion of those aged 10-18 admitted to hospital with asthma related emergencies is more that 57 per cent higher than average levels in England.
It is estimated that removing the most polluting vehicles – especially diesel – will result in 300,000 fewer people developing diseases such as asthma and diabetes by 2050.
TfL also launched a scrappage scheme to assist people with vehicles that fail forthcoming emission levels. I covered it in 2019, and it saw £25 million budgeted which pays £2,000 per car to owners. Not bad to get cash for a petrol car older than 15 years in age. In addition £2 million was allocated to vans and minibuses with payment up to £7,000.
That £27 million removes a decent chunk of the first year’s ULEZ income, and by year two income is expected to fall further as many will then have compliant vehicles. The money making line doesn’t really add up.
In fact, if raising money was the main aim they could have extended the zone across all of London as some called for, had stricter standards and not allocated £27 million for a scrappage scheme.
There’s also the claim the poor are suffering – though many of the poorest do not drive and also live in heavily polluted areas. While car owners saw a scrappage scheme and £27 million budgeted, public transport users are set to see fare rises above inflation in years to come and heavy cuts in services.
Pollution around the edge?
There’s a risk that in the short term vehicles which are liable to pay will increase in areas around the boundary such as Woolwich, as similar did happen around the boundary when the first LEZ was introduced. The south circular itself is excluded so more people may head to the ferry in the short term but with so many vehicles exempt it could be negligible totals. It’ll possibly be more out of ignorance than reality.
There’s also a risk people will park up around Woolwich and then travel into central London on public transport rather than commence a public transport journey at their nearest station. Greenwich’s very poor parking enforcement means this is a risk that needs watching.
As an aside, by the time Silvertown Tunnel opens in 2025 the impact will probably dissipate as any petrol car newer than 20 years old won’t pay and neither will diesels newer than a decade in age, so any impact in reducing traffic from ULEZ on those heading to and from the tunnel (as proclaimed by Sadiq Khan in his arguments for it) look extremely marginal by 2025.