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Things to know about the Ultra Low Emission Zone

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If you live in or around London, or even if you’ve visited the city, you may have heard of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) – especially if you’ve ever driven around the capital. But what exactly is the ULEZ, and what does it mean for you as you travel around The Big Smoke?

In this article, we take a closer look at the ULEZ, why it was introduced in the first place, how it is changing, and what impact, if any, it might have on you if you were to get behind the wheel and travel into London. Keep reading to find out more.

What is the Ultra Low Emission Zone?

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is a defined area in central London within which all vehicles travelling through it must meet strict emission requirements, or alternatively face a daily travel charge – for the majority of vehicles the charge is £12.50. The ULEZ is in operation every day of the year, except for December 25th, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You will know if you are about to enter the ULEZ as it is clearly signposted throughout the zone. To help you plan your journey in advance, you can check out a map of the ULEZ online.

The ULEZ in London was introduced in April 2019 as a way to discourage drivers from entering the area in vehicles that produce a high level of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ultimately with the goal of reducing emissions and combating air pollution in the UK capital – and it’s proven to work too. For instance, since it was brought into operation, the ULEZ has reduced the number of polluting vehicles in central London by over 17,000 every day, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, it contributed to a 44% reduction in harmful roadside NO2 within the zone.

While the ULEZ in London is the first of its kind in the world, there are a number of other low emission zones across the UK. However, at the moment, these zones only apply to buses, but the charge may also apply to cars in the coming years. There are currently low emission zones in operation in Glasgow, Bath and Birmingham, and there are plans to introduce them in Manchester, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Sheffield in the near future.

Is ULEZ changing?

As of 25th October 2021, the ULEZ will be expanding outside of central London up to, but not including, the North Circular A406 and South Circular A205 roads. This expansion comes as part of the Mayor of London’s plans to improve the health of London residents by cleaning up the city’s unclean, toxic air, which is thought to be a contributing factor to thousands of premature deaths every year.

It’s expected that the ULEZ will continue to operate all day, every day (with the exception of December 25th), and the strict emission requirements will stay the same too – but the area covered by the zone will be 18 times larger, helping to make the city an even cleaner place to live.

Which cars are ULEZ compliant?

If you are travelling within the ULEZ, it is preferred that your vehicle meets the emissions standards in place rather than paying the daily £12.50 charge. In order to be compliant with these standards and therefore exempt from the charge, your vehicle must meet the minimum Euro emissions standards in order to be compliant.

Emissions regulations date back to 1970, but the first EU-wide standard, known as Euro 1, came into effect in 1992 which detailed that catalytic converters were compulsory for all vehicles. Since then, there has been a series of Euro emissions standards introduced, each stage relating to a later vehicle registration date. These stages are referred to as Euro 1, Euro 2, Euro 3, Euro 4, Euro 5 and Euro 6. When your car was registered determines what Euro bracket your vehicle sits in. Currently, Euro 6 is in place which applies to the majority of cars sold and registered from September 2015 onwards. The aim of Euro emission standards is to reduce the levels of harmful exhaust emissions.

In order to meet ULEZ requirements and therefore not have to pay a charge:

• All diesel cars must conform to the current Euro 6 emission standards.
• All petrol cars must conform to the Euro 4 emission standards as a minimum.
• Petrol and diesel vans must meet the Euro 4 or Euro 6 emissions standards respectively
• All new diesel vans that were sold from September 2006 need to meet the Euro 6 standards, while all petrol vans registered from January 2006 should meet the Euro 4 standards.
• All vehicles that fall into the HGV category must meet Euro VI standards.
• All motorcycles and mopeds must meet Euro 3 emissions standards.

You can see if your vehicle meets the ULEZ standards by using the Transport for London (TfL) vehicle checker.

It’s also important to note that, despite the UK’s recent exit from the European Union, these emissions requirements are not expected to change in order to stay a common standard throughout the continent.

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What is the ULEZ charge?

If your vehicle does not conform to the ULEZ emissions standards in place, you will be required to pay a daily charge to drive in and out of the zone. This charge is £12.50 for the majority of vehicles, including cars and motorcycles, as well as vans up to a maximum of 3.5 tonnes. There is a £100 charge for heavy vehicles, such as lorries weighing over 3.5 tonnes, as well as buses and coaches weighing more than 5 tonnes.

Do I have to pay ULEZ?

Unless your vehicle meets the strict ULEZ emission requirements that are in place, you will be required to pay this daily charge. You can pay your charge online via the TfL website or the TfL Pay to drive in London app, and this can be done in advance of your journey or on the day. If you forget to pay the charge, you must then pay no later than midnight of the third day following your journey.

If you travel in and out of the ULEZ on a regular basis, you could use Auto Pay which automatically bills you every month for any charges you may owe. This is quick and easy to set up, and it means you needn’t worry about having to remember to pay your charge on time.

If you fail to pay the appropriate ULEZ charge on time, you could risk getting a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). This is a fine that is issued by local authorities to motorists who are found to be in breach of restrictions - including failure to pay the ULEZ charge.

It’s also important to note that you will also need to pay the daily Congestion Charge, unless your vehicle is exempt from this charge or you receive a discount. For example, if you live in the congestion zone and you are a registered resident, you will be entitled to a 90% discount on the charge.

Vehicles exempt from Congestion Charges include:

• Two-wheeled motorbikes and mopeds
• Emergency service vehicles
• NHS vehicles
• Vehicles used by disabled people who have a 'disabled' taxation class
• Vehicles that meet Euro 6 standards, petrol or diesel - however this is due to change so that only battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are eligible from October 25th 2021

You can find out more about Congestion Charge discounts and exemptions on the TfL website.

Although you may have to pay a charge, the London ULEZ zone, and other low emission zones around the country, are in operation as a way of encouraging less people to get behind the wheel in order to help London, and the rest of the UK, become a cleaner, more pleasant place to live.

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