London ULEZ — Ultra Low Emission Zone

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This article is about the London ULEZ (or Ultra Low Emission Zone) and the Congestion Charging Zone. Both are reducing traffic and pollution in London.

Governments, both national and local, have many options to accelerate the progress of the electric vehicle revolution. Some would come under the heading of “stick,” and some would come under the heading of “carrot.” I intend to write another article that examines all of the various possibilities, and also perhaps ask the question of why governments are not meeting their responsibilities in this area.

Traffic Reduction Zones

In this article, however, I am talking specifically about one particularly effective deterrent that governments can employ. That is to introduce zones in which polluting vehicles are either banned altogether or charged a fee for the privilege of polluting. Personally, I would prefer to see a ban, but politicians are normally less bold and have to think about their electability in the next election. Certainly, wherever these zones are employed, they have a dramatic effect in reducing congestion, the total number of vehicles driving into the zone, and, of course, the resulting pollution.

The Congestion Charge

In London, for over 15 years, there has already been a congestion charge, which applies to most vehicles between certain times on certain days within the defined congestion charging zone. That system uses cameras linked to artificial intelligence systems to read the number plates of vehicles moving within the zone, in order to create a charge record for the vehicle. Drivers entering the zone can either register on the automatic payment system before or make a manual payment shortly afterwards. If paying afterwards, payment records are then matched with charge records, which are then cleared. Congestion_Pricing_FlowchartFor those who are preregistered, payments are taken automatically. Any outstanding charge records cause the system to access the national database of vehicle registrations to identify the registered keeper of the vehicle and send them a bill, including a fine for non-payment.

In 2006, Transport for London (TfL) reported that the charge reduced traffic by 15%, and congestion (the extra time a trip would take because of traffic) by 30%. This effect has continued to today, so it has been a great success. The advantages of charging zones are well represented in this little chart on the right I borrowed from Wikipedia.


The Congestion Charge is an £11.50 daily charge for driving a vehicle within the charging zone between 07:00 and 18:00 Monday to Friday.

  • In October 2021, TfL will only allow 100% electric models to drive for free

  • From Christmas Day 2025, all cars — including EVs — will have to pay the £11.50 charge

That is not a very nice Christmas present for EV drivers, but it is an effective anti-congestion measure and EVs do cause congestion too. Personally, I do not need any disincentives, as I would rather walk on hot coals than drive across London, so I only suffer this ordeal occasionally for the sake of seeing my eldest daughter and her new family.

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Some Exempt Hybrids

Currently, some plug-in hybrid vehicles are exempt. Only hybrid cars emitting less than 75g/km CO2 in electric-only mode for 20 miles are exempt from the Congestion Charge. Examples of these are:

  • BMW 530e iPerformance — 49g/km emissions and 31-mile electric range.
  • Volvo XC60 T8 (the petrol-electric hybrid version of Volvo’s midsize SUV) — 28-mile electric range.
  • Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV — 30-mile electric range.
  • Toyota Prius Plug-in — nearly 40 miles in electric mode.

Non-plug in hybrids are not exempt, and some older plug-in hybrids with very short battery ranges might not qualify, either.

London Not Alone

London is not the only city to employ charging zones. According to Wikipedia, London, Durham, Stockholm, Singapore, Milan, and Gothenburg have them. Other cities have tried but have been overruled by public opinion or political interference. The tide of public opinion might be changing since “dieselgate” and from people’s much greater awareness of the evils of traffic pollution. The famous UK university town of Oxford will be closing part of itself to all ICE vehicles from 2020, with a continuing enlargement of the zone after that.

The BBC just recently reported on the case of a young girl, Ella Kissi-Debrah, who, sadly, died of asthma. The case is the subject of legal proceedings, which might make her the first person for whom traffic pollution will be directly listed as the official cause of death. The case is especially embarrassing for our Tory government, which have been taken to court 3 times over their failure to take any effective action to reduce air pollution in our cities.

London has a socialist mayor, Mr. Sadiq Khan. The Congestion Charge Zone and the new Ultra Low Emissions Zone are at least an attempt at effective action.

The Congestion Charge was started by Ken Livingstone, a previous socialist Mayor. The following is a map showing the Congestion Charge Zone.

Current ULEZ and Congestion Charge Zone. Image by TfL

The New London ULEZ

The London ULEZ, or London Ultra Low Emission Zone, is the latest London traffic zone. The Congestion Charge system has been a testbed for such systems. It has been a test of public opinion to see if the majority would support such a measure. It has been a test of the technology involved, to ensure its correct and effective operation. Having established both of these things, it was possible to go ahead with the London ULEZ.

The software for the ULEZ has to be more sophisticated than for the congestion zone. It not only has to read the number plates, but also identify what kind of vehicle it is from the registration records of every vehicle. Then it has to decide whether the vehicle is exempt from the charge or not. Only then can it create a charge record as it would for the congestion zone.

It is a pity the congestion charging system does not work in the same way: drivers of exempt vehicles have to apply for an exemption annually, for which there is an administration charge of £10. For someone visiting London only once a year, a fee of £10 for the privilege is hardly an “exemption” when the daily charge is £11.50.

3-Phase Rollout

The London ULEZ will be rolled out in three phases: the first of these came into effect on April 8, 2019, in central London – where the congestion charge currently applies too.

On Oct 26 2020, a London-wide Low Emission Zone will be brought into effect for larger vehicles like lorries. That is the “LEZ” — just to be clear, a larger zone than the “ULEZ.”

The final phase will extend the ULEZ, for all vehicles, to inner London boroughs, on October 25, 2021. The boundary will be the North and South Circular Roads, which used to be the London bypass before the M25 orbital motorway was built.

Current and future boundaries for ULEZ. Image by TfL


The average daily charge for a car that does not meet new emissions standards is £12.50, in addition to the congestion charge. ULEZ charges are in effect 365 days a year.

Most vehicles are subject to the £12.50 rate, including vans, minibuses, and motorcycles.

Drivers failing to pay the ULEZ charge will face a penalty of £160 (reduced to £80 if they pay within 14 days).

However, lorries will face a much higher daily ULEZ charge at £100. If this charge is not paid, lorry drivers face a penalty of £1000 (reduced to £500 if paid within 14 days).

Exempt Vehicles

Vehicles must meet the following Euro frameworks to be exempt from the ULEZ charges:

  • Euro 3 for Motorbikes — engines must not produce more than 2.3g/km of carbon monoxide, and 0.15g/km of nitrogen oxide.
  • Euro 4 for petrol cars, minibuses, vans — engines must not produce more than 1g/km of carbon monoxide, or 0.08g/km of nitrogen oxide. As this will be most petrol cars produced after 2006 most petrol cars, and petrol hybrids will pass.
  • Euro 6 for diesel cars, minibuses, vans — engines must not produce more than 0.5g/km of carbon monoxide, 0.08g/km of nitrogen oxide, or 0.005g/km of particulate matter.

It was shown that some diesel vehicles, classified as “Euro 6,” were producing up to 25 times the permitted pollution in real-world driving. The tests were subsequently revised at the same time as the WLPT standards were introduced, so hopefully that is no longer the case.

Final Thoughts

In my view, people must have the spur of necessity to contemplate the ordeal of London driving. It is a wonder that any further deterrents are needed, but it is now potentially very expensive to drive there. The ULEZ provides every incentive to buy a less polluting car.

This might influence people’s buying choices if they need to drive in London even only a few times in the year, so could have beneficial effects far beyond its boundaries. If you are visiting London, don’t hire a car, instead use the Tube trains if you know where you are going, or taxis if you don’t.

The standards are not set very high for petrol cars, but it is a start, and might be made more stringent later. The government have “boldly” announced a ban on the sale of all new diesel and petrol vehicles from 2040, but are being told by all with an interest in saving the planet that 2040 is laughably late — it should be from 2025, or 2030 at the latest, to have any real effect. Of course, this is the Tory government, so announcements are only gauged as having a good PR effect or not, and are not often meant to actually do anything beneficial.

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Andy Miles

As a child, I had the unrealistic expectation that I would learn about, and understand, absolutely everything during the course of growing up. Now, at the other end of life, I am fully aware of how much I have not learnt and do not understand, and yet, I remain interested in everything. My education, starting with an arts degree and going on to postgraduate studies in everything from computer science to hypnotism reflected my broad interests. For 20 years, I worked in local government. I am now retired, living in North Leicestershire in the UK, with plenty of time for doing whatever I like. I have always had a keen interest in everything alternative, which includes renewable energy and energy efficiency and, of course, electric vehicles. So, naturally, I have taken ownership of an EV, now that they are affordable and practical forms of transport. Writing is also one of my great pleasures, so writing about EVs and environmental issues is a natural evolution for me. You can find my work on EV Obsession, and CleanTechnica, and you can also follow me on twitter.

Andy Miles has 49 posts and counting. See all posts by Andy Miles