Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion moves closer as installation of new infrastructure gets underway

Image credit: TfL

London has moved a step closer to expanding the world’s-first Ultra Low Emission Zone with the installation of the first new cameras.

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) currently covers the same area as the Congestion Charge Zone and the new cameras will enable it to expand up to the North and South Circular in October 2021.

The larger zone is seen as vital to ensure that, as London recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, 'one public health crisis is not replaced with another'.

Transport for London (TfL) hope that the expanded zone will help Londoners breathe cleaner air. According to the transport regulators, the ULEZ schemes will reduce harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from road transport by around 30 per cent across the whole city, improving air quality for millions of Londoners.

So far, cameras have played an essential role in making the ULEZ effective. The central zone has seen the number of vehicles meeting the tough emission standards rise from 39 per cent in February 2017 to more than 80 per cent now complying. It has also had a positive impact on air pollution, contributing to a 44 per cent reduction in roadside nitrogen dioxide within its boundaries.

The area covered by the existing Congestion Charge and ULEZ has around 650 cameras.

The new zone will be 18 times the size, but new technology means only around 750 additional cameras will need to be installed. To reduce the number of additional sites required, TfL is prioritising cameras at locations already used to monitor traffic, on existing lamp columns and on traffic signals.

When preparing for the expansion, TfL say they will use their extensive experience of handling large volumes of data and respecting privacy from the 17 years the Congestion Charge has been in place, and more recently ULEZ. This will ensure seamless payment of the charge and secure handling of data.

Of the vehicles that do drive in the zone, TfL expects four out of five cars to be compliant by the time the scheme is introduced in October 2021. However, this relatively small number of older more polluting vehicles contributes disproportionately to London’s pollution.

The Mayor has recognised that some Londoners will need more help and may have bought more polluting diesel cars in good faith. To help support those who may find it difficult to meet the ULEZ standards with their own vehicles, the Mayor has launched a £48m scrappage scheme for those on low incomes, disabled Londoners, small businesses and charities to switch to cleaner vehicles and greener forms of transport.

To help businesses and charities prepare for the expanded zone, earlier this year the Mayor doubled the amount of money available to £7,000 for those scrapping their older more polluting vans and minibuses, and changed the criteria for the size of business eligible, so that more people could benefit.

The car and motorcycle scrappage scheme gives people support to take the dirtiest vehicles off the road and purchase a cleaner alternative, with up to £2,000 available for cars and £1,000 for motorbikes. So far more than £12 million has been given out in grants, providing significant support for small businesses and those most in need.

Alex Williams, TfL’s Director of City Planning, said: “We are fully committed to cleaning up London’s toxic air, and expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone will play a key role in discouraging people from driving heavily polluting vehicles. This will help people to breathe more easily and create a more liveable city. We have already seen significant falls in the most toxic emissions in central London and now see most vehicles meeting the tough standards in the heart of the capital.

“We expect to see the benefits felt by people across the city when the zone enlarges and are providing financial support for small businesses and the most vulnerable to help them make the green transition.”

Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor for the Environment, said: "The Ultra Low Emission Zone is the centrepiece of our plans to clean up London’s air. We have the boldest plans of any city on the planet and the ULEZ is exceeding expectations, helping reduce harmful roadside nitrogen dioxide by 44 per cent in central London. As London starts to recover from the pandemic, City Hall is even more determined to stop Londoners breathing air so filthy it is damaging our children’s lungs and causing thousands of premature deaths.”

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