On ULEZ Expansion and Accountability

On ULEZ Expansion and Accountability

by Cécile Faure

On Friday 10th December 2021, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan held a Q&A briefing following the publication of a first report one month after the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

The ULEZ is now 18 times larger than it was when introduced in April 2019, and covers 380km2 that is a quarter of London. The ULEZ expansion affects not only the nearly 4 million people who live within its boundaries, but also those who commute in and out of the city every day. It is by all means one of the bolder anti-pollution policies adopted by a city across the globe, and it does not go without controversies.

The ultralight stats

One month within the ULEZ extension, London Mayor Sadiq Khan is convinced that the results are positive and support such a decision. 

The number of ULEZ compliant vehicles within the zone has reached 92% (against 87% before the expansion, and 39% in 2017) and has increased by 4% on weekdays and weekends for those vehicles that are driven into the city from outside the new ULEZ. Mayor Sadiq Khan adds that one has seen a reduction by 11,000 of the total number of vehicles entering the zone. 

When asked if the current pandemic and its consequences – in terms of lockdown, reduced economic activities and change of work habits – may in fact have contributed to this reduced number of vehicles coming into town, Sadiq Khan answered he is confident that it is only a positive effect of the introduced policy.

The mayor believes in the robustness of the analysis conducted two weeks before and two weeks after the launch of the ULEZ expansion, where compared figures based on the number of compliant vehicles and paid ULEZ charges can only be explained by its effectiveness.

However, an average of 80,000 ULEZ non-compliant vehicles do come into London every week, contribute to air pollution and traffic congestion, and get away with murder by paying the £12.50 daily charge.

Fuelling inequity

Whether by conviction or obligation, buying a compliant car is not cheap, and subject to the three As: Affordability, Adaptability and Availability

The range of compliance depends on the year of registration, the fuel used and more importantly the CO2 and particle pollution. Should the aim be low to zero emission, electric and hydrogen vehicles, either for private or business use, are to become the norm. And whether motivated by air quality and climate urgency or by continuous increase in the prices of petrol and diesel, it looks like that car owners may be shifting towards electric vehicles.

According to SMMT, despite the pandemic, the number of new electric vehicle registrations in the UK has shown a continuous interest for both battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). In the month of November 2021, the market share of EVs amounted to 28,2% of all new vehicle registrations; on Year-to-Date basis, this cumulated to 17.5% against 3.2% in November 2019. And this shift towards electric vehicles is sustained by the greater choices in models and longer distance range. Just over 1.3 million EVs were registered in the UK, an increase of 5.9% compared to 2020.

In a study published by Ofgem in May 2021, 24% of consumers plan to buy an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid in the next five years. However, the upfront and running cost of an electric vehicle, not to mention the range covered and available grid of charging points, could be a barrier to make the leap for more than a third.

The introduction of the ULEZ, although aimed at improving the quality of life of the many London residents, has fuelled discontent amongst those, individuals or small businesses, who have to face recurrent charges as they have no other choices but to use their vehicle, suddenly in disgrace. 

In an attempt to limit negative impact for the less fortunate, between February 2019 and November 2021, Mayor Sadiq Khan invested £61 million into three schemes to support low income and disabled car owners as well as charities and small businesses into the replacement of old and polluting vehicles by ULEZ compliant ones. It is estimated that the financial incentive resulted in the scrappage of 13,513 vehicles, mainly individual cars (60.3% cars, 38.7% vans and minibuses, 0.9% being HGVs).

But the scheme was closed on 24 November 2021 as the funds have dried out, and the mayor is turning towards the government for help.

Mapping the charge

Progressively getting rid of the most polluting vehicles and pushing the electric wave is the way forward, but then follow the question of refuelling.

According to Zap-Map, as of 6 December 2021, there are 17 818 public charging points in the UK, the number of devices at those locations is 28258 and the total number of connectors within these devices is 47771. Of those, 3211 charging points offer 5090 fast charging devices. Greater London has the most charging points (32.1%) in the UK. 

When asked if able to monitor the effective use of charging points in London, and in particular by businesses who have a time constraint, Mayor Sadiq Khan referred to apps available to EVs drivers, notably taxis, and added “we need to have a bigger network across London. If you take a panoramic view, most of the fast-charging points are in the centre. We need to have a bigger network across our city. We are working with landowners, councils who are responsible for many of the highways, TFL, the private sector.”

And the onus is on…

The transition towards clean energy, better air and water quality, sustainable means of producing and proper waste management are more than ever on everybody’s agenda, or it seems, according to the recent Cop26 manifestos and street demonstrations.

Zero emission is the new #, replacing that formerly chased carbon neutrality. And Sadiq Khan insists that the climate irreversible change deadline is sooner than originally thought – decisions must be made with 2030 in view before it is too late, and politics should be held accountable for their words and actions now.

When reminded that he is Labor and asked how he is addressing disparities, Mayor Sadiq Khan stressed that tackling the issue of air quality is crucial, for all but in particular for the poorest Londoners who suffer the most. 

“It is an issue of social justice. Children, schools, hospitals in the most deprived communities are the most affected and see premature deaths, children with stunted lung capacity, pollution related illnesses. It is the poorest Londoners least likely to own a car who suffer the most from poor air quality. Within the ULEZ expanded area, 6 out of 10 of the poorest people do not own a car”.

And to add that London has one of the largest network of air quality monitoring stations, with information available to all, so that who might be sensitive to air quality for health issue, may act upon the advice given across the LondonAir* App and social network accounts.

Sadiq Khan emphasised that London is a city that dates back to the Roman times and has never ceased to grow.  The latest census estimates the number of people living in London to 8.9 million with a density of 5,666/km2, and “and with people coming to London, the population on a good day is about 10.5 million. There is simply not enough space for all to drive a car”, says the mayor.

Priority must be given to ambulances, fire engines, the Police, buses, small businesses attending the needs of the residents, and it on the city to make sure that those who do not need to use the road have access to efficient public transport and safe means of travel if walking or cycling.

And for that reason, Sadiq Khan insisted on the importance of main roads to be used by compliant cars, and to charge those who are using unfit means of transportation and may affect the life of others as well as increase the consequential costs for the resident community. “I do not apologize for making the polluters pay”, says the mayor.

How much is being raised through ULEZ Scheme? On an average day, 45,800 non-compliant vehicles paid the £12.50 charge. 121,200 were issued a warning notice within the first month of the expansion, and Penalty Charges Notices have been issued since. To date 687,000 Londoners have opened an AutoPay account, used for both the Congestion and the ULEZ charge (that may amount to a total of £27.50 per day if both paid).

But Sadiq khan is asking for more power and resources to address pollution. “The only way for the government to reach its carbon and pollution targets is by working with cities. We are doers as addressed during Cop26. We can help the government” and to add later “London contributes net to about £40 billion to the Treasury, amount that is redistributed towards the rest of the country. If the government takes away our resources, London’s ability to contribute is limited. All larger cities need more resources and that is for the government to understand this”.

This article is available in French – Requests may be addressed to: redaction [at] c14media.com