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An Overview of Mayor Khan’s ULEZ Plans & Impact (2019-Present)

Sadiq Khan's plan to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover all London boroughs by August 2023 may face delays as the High Court will challenge the proposal this summer.

Khan's ULEZ scheme was launched in April 2019 in central London with the goal of improving air quality. It was subsequently extended two years later to cover the North and South Circular roads. Khan has now proposed expanding the ULEZ scheme to cover all London boroughs by August 2023. 

ULEZ means that vehicles have to meet a certain emissions standard to comply and avoid having to pay a £12.50 charge. Most petrol cars registered before 2006, for example, will not meet these standards.

There were mixed reactions to the initial introduction of ULEZ. On one hand, there was support for reducing pollution in London by encouraging people to travel by more efficient means rather than older and more polluting vehicles. Indeed, there has been a 45% reduction in Nitrous Oxide (NOx) across the zone.

On the other hand, there was great concern that ULEZ would prove to be simply a tax on the poorer people in London, while the wealthier will not be so affected. Those in higher salary brackets are more likely to have modern and ULEZ compliant cars, or at the very least be able to afford to replace their vehicles with compliant ones. Most people in poorer and higher polluted areas, however, are more likely to have cheaper, older and more polluting vehicles.

London Assembly Member Neil Garratt pointed out that people in the lowest-income decile in outer London are more likely to own a vehicle than the highest-income decile in inner London, lending more support to the view that the zone should not be expanded as it will seriously impact a greater number of poorer people.

Many workers rely on their car to get them to and from work. It would, therefore, be a major burden for such people to pay a £12.50 charge whenever they drove into the zone, and the alternative of trying to sell a non-compliant car and replacing it with a newer, more efficient car becomes a daunting and in some cases inconsiderable option for the many Londoners who just cannot afford it.

Charities and business owners also expressed concern with the introduction and expansion of ULEZ. The charge added to the costs of many businesses, who had to upgrade their vehicles or pay the £12.50 charge on a daily basis to transport goods and necessary equipment or conduct deliveries required for the day-to-day running of it.

These concerns were relevant from the introduction of ULEZ, but the Mayor's plans to expand the zone again this August to cover every London Borough have seriously heightened them as 1.5 million more Londoners will be affected. Prior to the 2023 plans, many workers in outer London could still, for the most part, continue their day-to-day operations with little issue. Furthermore, there were still available routes that were longer but allowed for drivers with non-compliant vehicles to avoid the ULEZ charge. This was a problem for the Mayor as it seemed to displace the problem of pollution rather than reduce it but allowed for people in outer London to still get about without more charges.

This expansion plan would almost rid people of this alternative completely, and people will be almost forced to replace their cars, a very difficult and costly endeavour, not least because the price of second-hand cars has increased while the demand for non-ULEZ compliant cars is greatly reduced for obvious reasons.

The other alternative is to rely on public transport, but this is not a complete solution for those in outer London, with Mayor Khan, who offered a 0.2% increase in public transport across outer London, admitting that it is much more difficult for people to switch to public transport in outer London in contrast to those living in central and inner London. The transport in central London, for example, includes frequent 24-hour bus links and a regular Tube service, while outer London has fewer regular bus services that do not cover every area and lacks a Tube service as useful and extensive as central London.

Several news outlets held interviews with the public, and the general consensus was that the way the ULEZ expansion has been conducted gives ordinary people little chance of resolving the initial concerns with the scheme. For example, a recent survey by ‘The Telegraph’ highlighted the public's concerns that people who cannot afford to replace their cars will almost certainly be impacted by a daily charge just to come in and out of work.

Howard Cox, the founder of FairFuel UK, cited a survey revealing that one in three sole traders said they would not trade in London if the expansion took place, further emphasising the impact another ULEZ expansion will make on businesses across London.

In short, the issues raised with the introduction of ULEZ become even bigger and affect more people in low-income communities as the zone expands. These communities will need to try and replace their vehicle with a newer one or accept the daily charge. Either way, there are heavy costs involved, and some communities affected may manage while others will struggle.

To combat this, Mayor Khan launched an £110 million vehicle scrappage scheme, whereby Londoners receiving certain disability benefits can apply for grants of up to £2000, while charities and businesses can apply for up to £9500. However, there are still concerns that this is not enough to help those who find themselves in need of this assistance, and there has been pressure placed on Khan to increase the size of the scrappage scheme, not least because it was a proposed solution to an issue his ULEZ plans created.

The scheme began at the end of January 2023, and before the end of March, it had already received over 6000 applications and continues to increase, raising concerns that the budget will run out rapidly. Despite obtaining a £188 million windfall, Khan ignored the pressure and refused to increase the scheme. This decision not to increase support towards Londoners with a low income and businesses was met with dismay voiced by Lib-Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon. She claimed that the Mayor ought to “do far more to help people in outer London,” as they require assistance directly because of his plans for ULEZ expansion and so should receive it.

It remains to be seen if the August 2023 ULEZ expansion will still take place, due to Mayor Khan facing a High Court challenge after five Tory councils requested a judicial review of his plans, questioning their legitimacy and legality.

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Tags: Government London Conservatives Tory Labour Transport Neil Garratt ULEZ Sadiq Khan TFL Mayor Liberal Democrats


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