The signs have been installed in Glasgow since December: “Low emission zone. Exemptions apply. Enforced from June 2023”. The city now prepares, in just a few months, to become the first in Scotland to move to enforcing the ban on the most-polluting vehicles within the zone's boundaries.
Three other cities, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen have low emission zones (LEZ) in place and will follow and begin to enforce a year later.
But what is the point of these LEZs? And what vehicles will find themselves fined, a penalty charge of £60 an incursion, if they enter its boundaries?
What cars will be banned?
The minimum criteria for access is stated as Euro 4 for petrol cars and vans, Euro 6 for diesel cars and vans and Euro VI for buses, coaches and HGVs. But how do you know if your vehicle fits these categories?
A rough guide, according to Glasgow City Council, is that these would be "diesel engine vehicles registered after September 2015, and petrol vehicles registered from 2006 onwards will meet the required LEZ standards."
However, if you want to be sure, it's worth checking by entering your vehicle’s details into the emissions look-up tool on the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) website.
An online vehicle checker is also in the pipeline at the lowemissionzone.scot website.
The same restrictions will reply to all of Scotland’s other LEZs when they come into force on 30 May 2024 in Dundee and 1 June 2024 in Aberdeen, and Edinburgh.
Are there times in the day when it is possible for banned cars to enter the emissions zone?
No, the ban runs 24 hours a day.
What area does the Glasgow LEZ stretch over?
The zone covers much of the city centre, stretching from the M8 motorway to the north and west, the River Clyde to the south and Saltmarket to the east. The LEZ already applies to buses and has been restricting their entry since phase 1 of Glasgow’s LEZ (buses only) was introduced in 2018.
What are the boundaries in the other cities?
In Edinburgh the zone stretches along the West End, Queen Street and the New Town, Greenside at the top of Leith Walk, Abbeyhill on the east, Pleasance, the Meadows and Tollcross.
Map of Edinburgh LEZ from lowemissionzones.scot website
Dundee includes an area within the A991 Inner Ring Road, excluding the Bell Street, West Marketgait NCP and Wellgate car parks.
Map of Dundee LEZ from lowemissionzones.scot website
Boundaries of the LEZ in Aberdeen include Virginia Street, Willowbank Road, Rose Street, Skene Street, Schoolhill Road and West North Street.
Map of Aberdeen LEZ from lowemissionzones.scot website
Are some vehicles exempt?
Yes, vehicles for disabled people, police, ambulance, fire and emergency vehicles, military vehicles, historic vehicles and showman’s vehicles. A historical vehicle is one registered for the first time at least 30 years ago, and which is no longer in production.
What happens if I drive into the zone and my vehicle does not meet the standards?
You will be issued an initial penalty charge, set at £60 and reduced by 50% if paid within 14 days. The penalty doubles with each subsequent breach of the rules detected in the same LEZ. The penalty charges are capped at £480 for cars and light goods vehicles and £960 for buses and HGVs. Monitoring will be carried out using automatic number plate cameras.
What if you live in the zone?
Residents in Glasgow have an extra year before enforcement begins for them.
How do they differ from LEZs in other parts of the UK?
The types of cars banned from Scottish LEZ’s fall into the same categories as those banned by London’s newly expanded ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), though the UK capital also has restrictions on motorbikes.
However, Scotland is operating a different approach. In London, vehicles are asked to pay a £12.50 daily charge to drive inside the zone. Scotland’s restrictions are more punitive, described as a ‘ban’ and with a hefty £60 fine attached, rather than a charge.
What country introduced the first low emission zones?
Sweden pioneered the approach, introducing an Environmental Zone to Stockholm (??) in 1996. There are now 250 low emission zones, either established or in the pipeline, across 15 European countries, including Germany, the Netherlands and north Italy. London first established a low emission zone in 2007-2008 and is, this summer, expanding its ultra low emission zone.
What’s the point of them?
The zones are a public health measure, created to improve air quality by restricting access to the most polluting vehicles.
The Scottish Government says, “LEZs will encourage people to make the switch to using more sustainable methods of transport and consider if using their car to go into the city is really necessary or whether using public transport is an option, as all four cities have extensive public transport networks. LEZs will also encourage people to think about more active travel such as walking, wheeling and cycling as alternatives to taking the car.”
So, is this another net zero policy?
It’s more improving air quality and reducing pollutant levels, including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter but reducing these pollutants does help us meet emissions reduction targets.
Research by TomTom found that London's ULEZ resulted in dramatically reduced pollutants emissions in the capital. Particulate matter emissions were reduced by 40% and NOx (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) emissions were reduced by almost 54%.
Any policy that encourages people to drive less, leave the car at home, and walk, cycle or use public transport more, also helps reduce emissions.
What will happen to the money paid in fines?
The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 states that penalties will be used to support the air quality objectives of the Low Emission Zones.
Which drivers is it likely to impact most?
Among those who have objected to the Glasgow LEZ are taxi drivers. Already, according to Unite the Union, 40 percent of Glasgow Taxi Drivers have left the industry over the pandemic period, and hundreds are now expected to follow.
Though a Low Emissions Support Fund towards the costs of retrofitting vehicles has been operating, it has been said that available grants are not sufficient to cover the costs of the adaptations.
Their roll-out, along with other traffic restricting measures like low traffic neighbourhoods has been described as part of a "war on cars" and "climate lockdown".
Some see it as an inequality issue, and point out that it’s less-wealthy car owners with older cars that are likely to be affected.
However, one study, published in the British Medical Journal, which looked into the impact of LEZs across Europe found that the zones “have a positive impact on improving health and reducing health inequalities in areas of high air pollution”.
How bad is air quality in our cities?
As a whole, last year, Scotland met its air quality targets – for the first time, apart from during the 2020 pandemic period, in which it has not breached legal air pollution limits. But certain areas in our cities are still highly polluted. Glasgow’s Hope Street was found to be Scotland’s most polluted street, measured by nitrogen dioxide (NO2) with 39.24 micrograms per cubic metre, with Edinburgh’s St John’s Road in Corstorphine second most polluted s with 29.26 micrograms. Atholl Street in Perth measured worst in Scotland for levels of particulate matter.
Is there any other funding for businesses struggling because of the LEZ?
Households receiving specific means-tested benefits and living within a 20km radius of an LEZ may be eligible for a £2000 grant towards disposal of their non-compliant vehicle. These households can also apply for £1000 funding towards more sustainable travel alternatives like bus passes, train season tickets, car club membership and purchase of new and used bikes.
There are also £2000 grants available to microbusinesses (with nine or fewer employees) operating within that 20km radius for scrappage of non-compliant cars.
Finally, there is a Low Emission Zone Retrofit fund for micro businesses operating within Scotland's LEZs to support them to retrofit their existing non-compliant vehicles, available for iight commercial vehicle and wheelchair accessible taxis, heavy goods vehicles and refuse collection vehicles.
Information about funding can be found on the Energy Saving Trust website.