Why London's new low emission zone dramatically cuts pollution
The introduction of the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London has had a dramatic impact on the type of vehicle entering the city centre, and could lead to other major cities following its lead.
The British capital has seen a substantial decline in the number of higher polluting vehicles on its streets within a month of imposing a £12.50 (€14) per day charge on non-compliant cars and vans, in addition to the city’s existing £11.50 (€13) congestion charge.
Figures released by Transport for London (TfL) indicate 9,400 fewer polluting vehicles drove into the capital in April compared to March, a fall of 26%.
To avoid the ULEZ charges, diesel vehicles must meet Euro 6 emission standards, and petrol vehicles must meet Euro 4 standards.
Overall, 74% of vehicles entering the ULEZ in April complied with the new emissions standards. This compared to 61% in the month before, and only 39% in February 2017.
TfL said it also recorded an 80 per cent increase in compliant vehicles in the ULEZ from February 2017 to April 2019, resulting in a reduction of approximately 20% in nitrogen oxide (NOx) concentrations at the roadside.
Fleets accelerate replacement cycles
The transport authority said there is evidence that the two-year ‘preparation period’ for the ULEZ saw businesses and private motorists replace older, polluting vehicles as well as switch to cleaner transport alternatives including walking, cycling and public transport.
According to the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, three-quarters of leased cars and 94% of rental cars comply with the emissions criteria of London’s ULEZ, but these percentages fall to 37% for leased vans and 56% for rental vans.
Sales of new vans rise 8%
This may help to explain why LCV sales in the UK were up 8% for the first four months of 2019 compared to the same period of 2018. However,Steve Botfield, senior editor, commercial vehicles at cap hpi, said: “Van users won’t be rushing out to stock up on Euro 6 engine vans unless the frequency of trips into central London makes this financially viable.”
Auction houses have reported how ULEZ has forced companies to accelerate the replacement cycles of their light commercial vehicles, selling Euro 5 compliant LCVs and acquiring Euro 6 models. This is most likely to have occurred among smaller fleets with the flexibility to buy secondhand vehicles.
Remarketing giant BCA even held a special ULEZ sale in partnership with TfL, where the only vehicles on offer were Euro 6 compliant or electric/hybrid vehicles that could enter the Ultra Low Emission Zone without charge.
Jon Gilbert, business development director Commercial Vehicles at BCA said: “The demand for Euro 6 is growing. Several major buyers confirmed that they only retail Euro 6 compliant vehicles.”
Other cities will follow London
The early success of London’s controversial scheme – which will be extended to cover a much wider area of the city in October 2021 – has the potential to embolden campaigners to call for low emissions zones in other areas.
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive, British Lung Foundation, said: "What's needed now is the ULEZ's expansion and for the rest of the UK to introduce similar measures. It's terribly wrong your postcode dictates how clean the air you breathe is. After all, clean air should be as easy to access as clean water.”
London’s early success could also encourage other towns and cities across Europe to follow its example.
Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said: “Bold action reaps rewards - just one month after launching the world's first ULEZ, leading the way for cities around the globe, we have already seen a significant impact on the types of vehicles driving in the centre of our capital and polluting our air. These were big changes, and vital ones - our toxic air is an invisible killer responsible for one of the biggest national health emergencies of our generation.”