Should An Ultra Low Emission Zone Kill Off The Congestion Charge?

electriccar_180214About a year ago we started hearing news about the possible introduction of a Ultra Low Emission Zone to take on London’s air quality. Details have been a little fuzzy, but more information emerged at a recent London Assembly Environment Committee meeting.

The idea of the ULEZ is to encourage vehicles with no or very low emissions of pollutants like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. City Hall still needs to consult about exactly what would happen, but the main ideas seem to be around working out whether there’d be a ban on higher emitters entering the zone altogether or a sliding scale of penalties, much like the current Low Emission Zone.

The ULEZ would cover all vehicles on the road come the implementation date of 2020, not just new ones registered from that date as the Mayor has (confusingly) been saying. The ULEZ would cover at least the same area as the congestion charge and probably include cars as well as bigger diesel users like buses and HGVs. This has prompted calls from Assembly Member Andrew Boff to scrap the congestion charge if the ULEZ goes ahead:

“I have long believed that the Congestion Charge is a tax on the motorist, and that it has failed to really have the impact that was originally intended. It makes no sense to continue with it if the Ultra Low Emission Zone goes ahead as planned. I would strongly urge the Mayor to consider scrapping the charge altogether and lighten the burden on London’s hard pressed drivers.”

Although the two schemes – congestion charge and ULEZ – have different aims (to reduce congestion and emissions, respectively), it does seem very unfair to charge drivers twice for entering the same zone. It’s a case of balance, surely, and also probability: City Hall doesn’t want to encourage more traffic into zone 1, but also the idea of a clean air utopia by 2020 where everyone’s driving electric cars is unlikely. Would a charge levied on polluting vehicles also deter them from entering, dealing with congestion as a side effect of the ULEZ? Or will we eventually get to a point where the greenest vehicles have to pay for contributing to congestion as well?

Andrew Boff and fellow AM Jenny Jones also raise the spectre of free or cheaper entry into the ULEZ being the preserve of the rich – and they’ve got grounds for concern. At the moment, drivers of ultra low emission vehicles get a 100% discount on the congestion charge, but the discount originally encompassed a wider range of green cars. Exemptions were tightened up last year as more and more people bought hybrids and were able to drive them into the centre of town for free. If TfL keeps moving the goalposts for what gets a discount, only people with plenty of disposable income will be able to keep buying cars to match. Everyone else gets the penalty. It’s something to bear in mind.

Photo by HoosierSands from the Londonist Flickr pool

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  • Nick

    I don’t think it’s unfair at all. They’re two taxes – and avoidable ones at that – for two different things. One to encourage less traffic, one to encourage fewer emissions. Don’t want to pay the ULEZ charge? Stop polluting the city. Don’t want to pay the congestion charge? Stop contributing to London’s ridiculously overcrowded roads.

    The alternative is that both London’s air and London’s traffic continue to kill people.

    • andybrice

      Yes. I don’t see how it’s particularly unfair. Overcomplicated perhaps though.

  • oriordan

    Congestion and air quality are two different things. If everyone drove electric cars putting out low pollutants, the streets would still be jammed nose-to-tail with all those electric cars going nowhere.

  • Dave H

    I’m inclined to agree with the principle of keeping congestion and emission charges separate, and levying them in parallel (if needed). Part of the problem with the history of the current congestion charge is that politicians (most notably, Livingstone) have tried to subvert it to address issues other than just congestion, which has threatened to make a nonsense of it.

    Levying two separate charges, one based on how much congestion a car *actually contributes to*, and one based on what quantity of harmful emissions a car *actually produces*, has the potential to be much more equitable (even if somewhat harsher to HGVs etc.), and might actually benefit London in both areas.

    That’s just a pipe dream, however. As long as politicians are in charge of policy in this area, they’ll always prefer to create an inconsistent and inequitable system that divides opinion, which they’ll then make a career out of pandering to.

  • MattFromLondonist

    Could imposing extra charges exacerbate the ‘death of the high street’ and penalise small independent shops, who find that their deliveries are starting to cost more? I don’t really know…just asking in case anyone on here runs a small business and worries about such things.

    • Richard

      Of course not! How many high street shops are there in the congestion charge zone?!

  • Neil

    Tightening up the restrictions isn’t TfL “moving the goalposts”, it’s responding to the discounts having the desired effect. Initiatives like this have spurred manufacturers to produce greener cars to the point where many more cars now meet the old requirements. If the restrictions weren’t gradually tightened, then car buyers (and therefore manufacturers) would become complacent and the drive to have ever greener vehicles in London would cease.

  • Martini

    This is a joke ! At a stroke the vast majority if London residents will be priced off the road because they can not afford to buy a new car. The rich however will have the roads to themselves. As for the majority of people who reside outside London and have to drive in at weekends because public transport is a joke, they will no longer be able to do so. You know the people that actually keep London ticking over for the green loving environmentalists

    • John

      The pollution levels of my road which is a main road right at the border of the CC zone has gone up due to increased traffic using the ring road. This will only make things worse. Whilst I don’t disagree with a charge, I feel it should apply to all Londoners, and the border should be the edge of all London boroughs.