London goes the radical way to fight air pollution

On 8 April 2019, the City of London introduced a new scheme to fight toxic air pollution. The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) requires older and more polluting vehicles entering Central London to pay a daily charge, in addition to the existing congestion charge in the same area. The ULEZ is the first of its kind to require 24/7 compliance and it is the only scheme to completely ban pre-2015 diesel vehicles.

Unfortunately, since the introduction of the Congestion Charge Zone in 2003, neither the air quality nor the traffic situation in London has improved enough to prevent a public health emergency. Studies showed the pollution (nitrogen-dioxide and particulate matter) is constantly above the safety limits, having the worst effects in the deprived parts of London and on young children. All that data prompted the city to take action and introduce a much radical scheme.

Transport for London expects that, with ULEZ, about 45% of the toxic emission will be gone by 2021 and, by 2025, the city’s air quality will be within the legal limits. In a public consultation called together by Mayor Sadiq Khan last year, about 60% of the participants were in favour of the scheme. Furthermore, environmental activists and parents, in general, welcome the strict rules. However, there are also protests from small business owners who think the new charge is the straw that breaks the camel’s back – thus puts them out of business.

According to data from the first week of operation, about 30% of the vehicles entering the ultra-low emission zone were not compliant and had to pay the charge. In the running up to the ULEZ, already 27,000 non-compliant cars have been taken out of traffic, according to City Hall figures.

Other data shows the new scheme got people thinking about alternatives: the online car comparison site Carwow registered a 25% increase in searches for plug-in hybrids and a 14% increase in quotes for electric cars in April.

More interestingly, many residents of the bordering area have found a business opportunity in ULEZ. YourParkingSpace said there was a 34% increase in registrations of driveways for rent to those willing to avoid the new charge. But current plans of the City Hall indicate this way of money-making might only be temporary. In 2021, the ULEZ will be extended to the area between the North and South circular zones, to further expand the effect of air cleaning measures.

London is certainly not the only city trying to fight air pollution and looking at (diesel) cars for the solution. Cities around the globe are starting to take mild to drastic measures to protect their residents. Amsterdam was the latest to announce it would completely ban non-electric cars by 2030, while Oslo and Madrid both have “zero zones” in their city centres, with the latter priding itself with 40% NO2 reduction within half year. Whatever path cities are following, experts agree on the ultimate goal: zero emissions.


Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

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