The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has been described as a “punitive tax” with one London Assembly Member (AM) saying they have been “inundated” with concerns since its expansion - though another said they are pleased to see the fuss “starting to die down”.
The comments come as the extension of the clean-air zone hits its one-month milestone, having been widened to cover all of greater London on August 29.
Since that date, most drivers of non-compliant vehicles in the capital have been liable to pay a £12.50 charge, which the mayor, Sadiq Khan, says is in a bid to improve the air quality in London.
Commenting on the first month of the zone covering essentially the entirety of the city, Mr Khan reiterated his belief that the ULEZ expansion was “difficult”, but “necessary to tackle air pollution and the climate crisis”.
“Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to toxic air pollution, children are growing up with stunted lungs and thousands of people in our city are developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma,” he said.
“Nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are already ULEZ compliant and their drivers will not have to pay the charge.
“And the mayor has expanded his scrappage scheme so that every Londoner with a non-compliant car is now eligible to get support to switch their vehicle.”
When LondonWorld visited Croydon town centre earlier this week, shoppers and other visitors varied in how they perceived the extension of the ULEZ last month.
Raja Mutanser, an employee at Ufone in Croydon’s high street, told LondonWorld he normally travels by public transport, and that no one he knows has been impacted by the ULEZ.
He acknowledged that “a lot of people are not happy” with the expansion.
“I think it doesn’t matter whether I agree or not. It matters to the people that are affected by the ULEZ,” he said.
Others, such as Clara Garcia, who lives in Hackney but was visiting the area, said she has “benefited from the impact on traffic control”, and that there has been “a very positive impact on the roads there”.
Conservative AM and representative for Havering and Redbridge Keith Prince told LondonWorld he has been “inundated with concerns from residents affected by Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ expansion just one month in.
“While we all appreciate the need for cleaner air, this policy punishes hardworking Londoners without offering them viable alternatives.
“The punitive ULEZ tax has caused a huge amount of harm to motorists and businesses, with tradesmen already being forced to add “ULEZ Fees” to their invoices, and elderly people being charged to attend essential hospital appointments.”
Mr Prince described the mayor’s £160 million scrappage scheme as “woefully inadequate”, adding: “I am constantly hearing from residents who feel cheated because they changed their vehicles early on, only to find that due to the changes in the scrappage scheme they would now qualify.
“We need a more thoughtful approach to protect both our environment and our residents’ livelihoods. It is not too late for the mayor to scrap the charge and spend money on targeted improvements in air quality, such as increasing the number of electric buses.”
Green AM Siân Berry meanwhile told LondonWorld it is good “to see the fuss at last starting to die down”.
“I am looking forward to seeing the updated emissions data and other evidence of benefits, such as reduced traffic and congestion,” Ms Berry said.
She added however that it remains “vital” that Mr Khan improve public transport in outer London alongside the ULEZ.
“I have also visited residents around the edges of greater London outside the ULEZ area and they need more services from Transport for London (TfL) too.
“Beyond car-focused policies like ULEZ, the mayor must now turn more of his attention to sustainable transport options for people living in these areas.”
The need to improve alternatives to motor vehicles for outer London residents is nothing new, with a report published earlier this year by the think-tank Centre for London finding the lack of options is stopping millions of people from travelling more sustainably.
In July, the London Assembly transport committee was also told by Cllr Barry Lewis, who chairs Sutton Council’s environment and sustainable transport committee, that outer London had been “forgotten”, and suffered due to a lack of capital investment.
City Hall has confirmed the first report on the ULEZ expansion will be published later this autumn, and will focus on compliance levels after one month of operation.
Further reports will analyse the zone’s impact after six and 12 months of operation.
TfL said it is also due to release updated data on the scrappage scheme next week, as part of its monthly publishing of figures including the money committed and to which boroughs.