If cities want to clean up their air and get people using healthier, more climate-friendly modes of transport, London has demonstrated a solution that genuinely works. Its new-ish “Ultra Low Emissions Zone,” which was established on April 8, 2019, has led to major shifts in transportation patterns. That said, there are also some downsides.
A survey conducted by Bikesure in March found the following, via Bikesure:
- 65.3% of Londoners changed their mode of transport for the ULEZ
- 19.6% of those who changed their usual mode of transport now use a low-emissions motorcycle or scooter/moped
- 26.7% can’t afford to drive in the ULEZ
- 11.3% of respondents thought the ULEZ was a bad idea
- 73.5% changed their usual transport before the ULEZ was introduced or within three months
- 30.9% of people said that they won’t be able to afford to drive/ride in London after the ULEZ is expanded in 2021.
You can actually drive in the ULEZ without any charges if you have a clean enough car — an electric car or at least a Euro 4 petrol-engine car or Euro 6 diesel-engine car. You can check if a car qualifies to drive freely or not here. However, if your vehicle doesn’t qualify as clean enough, you have to pay £12.50 a day to enter the zone or you could be fined £160.
The following is a map of the current zone (in red) and an expansion zone scheduled to arrive in October 2021 (grey), via Bikesure:
Of the ~75% of Londoners who changed their mode of transport due to the ULEZ, this is what they switched to (note that respondents could choose more than one option):
Public sentiment, as you may have guessed by now, is quite divided on the ULEZ. Even if people understand the point and appreciate the intent, a large chunk of them have a tough time not being frustrated by the extra cost and/or forced change to their mode of transport.
Aside from the 30.9% of Londoners who said they won’t be able to afford to drive or ride in London once the ULEZ is expanded next year, another 25.3% said they will drive or ride in London less often and 12.8% said they would change to a low-emissions mode of transport.
Naturally, it is great that the ULEZ is encouraging more people to switch to zero-emissions electric cars and other cleaner transportation options, and it is also helpful that this policy’s partner is financial incentives for going electric (much lower taxes), but it is worth remembering that most of the population can’t afford to buy new vehicles, let alone new electric vehicles that meet their needs. I personally think tiered financial incentives would be a big way to help more household comply with the city’s goals in a more equitable way. Nonetheless, any time you add a charge for activities like this, it’s going to hurt the poor and lower middle class more.
Congestion pricing, which this is a form of, is one of the most effective ways to achieve cuts in automobile use, but it comes from squeezing consumers, making it an unpalatable solution in many markets. Perhaps, though, a lot more could be put into explaining how it lowers people’s health care costs, their chance of certain diseases or sicknesses, and their chance of premature death. Less wealthy urban residents are also more harmed by those things, on average, than wealthier residents of the city.
All images courtesy Bikesure
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