The Beginner’s Guide to the ULEZ: What is it and Why is it Important to Our City?


What is the ULEZ and why is it important?

If you’re in London, you’ve probably noticed signs scattered throughout the city hoping to catch the attention of busy passersby to remind them that the ULEZ is coming. Perhaps you’ve spotted one during your morning commute on the tube, or seen one fixed to the side of the bus as it whizzed past you on your way home. But what actually is the ULEZ? Today we’re breaking it down and considering what it could mean for innovation and sustainable development within London.

What is the ULEZ?

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is an area within central London (currently the same area as the congestion charge already in place) where, from the 8th of April, there will be strict charges applied to vehicles that emit the largest amount of toxic air pollution. The ULEZ has been one of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s high-impact initiatives to tackle the illegal, hazardous levels of air pollution that are having a large, negative impact on the lives of Londoners. The new regulation aims to specifically reduce levels of NOx and PMx, known to have a significantly negative impact on human health and wellbeing.

From the 8th of April onwards, non-compliant vehicles will have to pay a charge of up to £100 a day in order to enter the ULEZ, alongside the £11.50 congestion charge that is already in place. The ban will operate 365 days a year, 24/7 and from October 2021, the ULEZ boundary will be extended to include the north and south circular roads (essentially most of Greater London), becoming the largest emission control zone on the planet! The boundary for the 8th of April ULEZ and the October 2021 boundary is depicted in the image below.


How it will impact driving in London?

Firstly, we’re likely to see a few less vehicles on London’s roads. Transport for London (TfL) have predicted traffic to fall by 5% as a result of the new regulation.

The ULEZ will also incentivise use of alternatively-fuelled vehicles, with vehicles powered by electricity, compressed natural gas (CNG), hydrogen and other non-polluting fuels predicted to increase. These vehicles will be exempt from the ULEZ restrictions as they emit significantly less, or no, toxic air pollution. So expect to see more Nissan Leafs, Teslas, hydrogen-powered buses and other alternatively-fuelled vehicles on the city’s roads.

How will it impact the wider city?

The ULEZ is likely to have a positive impact on the everyday lives of Londoners, such as ourselves. As well as noticing fewer cars, the ULEZ will help to make London a healthier, quieter and arguably more liveable city for the vast majority of its population. The Mayor predicts that the ULEZ will decrease levels of road transport emissions by 20% and almost halve the amount of NOx emitted from large vehicles. As a result, over 100,000 residents will no longer live in areas that currently have toxic levels of air pollution. The ULEZ is also likely to decrease traffic and discourage private car use, increasing levels of active transport and use of public transport and other modes of mass transit.   

However, not everyone has been so receptive to this new initiative. The hard deadline has resulted in a degree of negative backlash; emergency services, delivery and other commercial vehicles are not exempt from the ULEZ charge and there will be no ‘phasing’ of the regulation. This has sparked outrage from some businesses who argue that upgrading their fleet to Euro VI or alternatively-fuelled vehicles is a large expense that they will struggle to carry out in time. Unable to afford to switch vehicles by the April deadline, they will be forced to pay the ULEZ charge, which is a considerable amount of money.  Furthermore, many fleet managers may also move their most polluting vehicles to operate outside of the ULEZ zone in Outer London, increasing harmful air pollution in these areas and creating further unintended negative consequences.

On the other hand, the ULEZ could also incentivise new innovations within mobility. Seemingly ‘harsh’ regulations and restrictions has often been shown to increase innovation, and some businesses have already responded positively to the new regulation. Uber has introduced a consumer charge of 15p per mile that will go towards helping drivers to buy electric vehicles, which are more expensive upfront than their diesel counterparts. Many large vehicle operators are also in the midst of upgrading to alternatively-fuelled fleet vehicles, with UPS upgrading its entire fleet to be fully-electric. New innovations could also help to tackle other problems that the city faces, with increased uptake of alternatively-fuelled vehicles helping to lower the city’s transport related greenhouse gas emissions. This will move London towards becoming a low-carbon city, helping it to reduce its contribution to climate change.

DG Cities is working to help businesses and local authorities employ innovative technologies to prepare for a low-emission city. We are working with Local Waste Management Authorities on the eRCV I and II projects to offer them a technically feasible and commercially viable option to upgrade their refuse collection vehicles to be fully electric. Working with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and MagTec for eRCV I, and Westminster City Council, Veolia, Sheffield City Council, MagTec and Microlise for eRCV II, we are re-powering four end-of-life refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) to be fully-electric. The ULEZ strengthens the business case for the repower, as the eRCVs developed are zero-emissions and are therefore fully exempt from any charge, providing a major financial saving for fleet managers within London.

To conclude, it may seem like another acronym, but the ULEZ is likely to not only impact drivers within London, but the way in which all goods and people move into and within the city. It offers a vast array of opportunities for innovations in mobility, as well as further opportunities to tackle other problems experienced within our city such as congestion, climate change and obesity. With it significantly lowering harmful air pollution within the city, I think we can all breathe a little easier come April 8th.