Just under a month after the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was expanded to cover all of greater London, shoppers and other visitors to Croydon town centre were split on the early impacts of Sadiq Khan’s clean-air scheme.
The borough was one of the outer London areas absorbed into the ULEZ upon its extension beyond the North and South Circular roads on August 29.
Since that date, most drivers of non-compliant vehicles in the capital have been liable to pay the £12.50 daily charge.
Mr Khan and Transport for London (TfL) say the expansion was necessary to tackle climate change and air pollution in the capital.
They say that, according to official data, more than 90% of cars seen driven in outer London on an average day were already compliant ahead of the zone’s extension.
Critics have pushed back on the move in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, with some querying the extent to which it will clean up the air in London’s outer boroughs.
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.
Peter Torres, who lives north of Croydon in Sydenham, said he has not been affected, due to already owning a compliant car.
But he raised concerns about those having to shift their vehicles or resort to public transport, with trains being expensive and the service on buses sometimes lacking.
Mr Torres said: “In my opinion, it has affected those that are on a lower income and most of those people travel to work or use the car in order to survive. They can’t afford to buy a new car and they have found it really hard.”
Valentine, who did not wish to give his surname, is a Croydon resident and owns a business.
He told LondonWorld: “My construction business has been impacted. To buy a new van usually costs around 10-15 grand, and if you were to buy it second hand it might not comply and would still be expensive.
“[ULEZ] doesn’t really help. I think they see it as a cash cow.”
He said he has had issues paying the charge, and had received a £270 fine due to being unable to register online. After complaining, he said it was reduced to £90.
The biggest impact has been when needing to buy materials from further afield.
“I can’t just keep on charging the client, so I have to pay for it,” he said. “The biggest thing is that they are smart and when it comes to portraying restrictions - you have three days to pay or you have to pay in full and they know people are busy and most cars affected belong to working class people.
“If they still want to charge then these restrictions need to change. It needs to be more flexible.”
The zone’s expansion was not without support, with two north London residents shopping in Croydon - both of whom already lived within the previous ULEZ - the most emphatic in backing the mayor’s decision.
Liza, who lives in Finsbury Park, said: “I think it’s brilliant and I’m 100% behind Sadiq Khan’s expansion and behind climate action.
“There has been a positive impact on air quality and on sound. It makes roads feel safer if people want to hire cars and I don’t worry about my daughter cycling so much anymore.”
Clara Garcia, from Hackney, said: “I don’t drive, but I’ve benefited from the impact on traffic control. I live in Hackney and there’s been a very positive impact on the roads there.”
Wayne Smith, a Croydon resident, said London had become an increasingly difficult city to drive around prior to the expansion of the ULEZ.
“You feel like you’re stuck, because every time you move there’s a fine on the cameras, there’s a fine parking, there’s a fine congestion,” he said. “It’s called fine city, but it’s not fine. You’re just too scared to move your car. So really, I’m leaving the car at home and jumping on transport.”
He added he feels sorry “for the youngsters”, though conceded that “maybe you’ve just got to adapt”.
“Is he (Sadiq Khan) right, is he wrong? I do not know,” he said.
On the day the ULEZ was expanded, Mr Khan said: “We’ve already seen huge progress since I announced the expansion. On the eve of the rollout nine in 10 cars seen driving in the zone on an average day are already compliant and won’t pay a penny. Financial help is available for every single Londoner and small business whose vehicle is not compliant.
“It was a very tough decision to expand the zone, but with toxic air leading to around 4,000 premature deaths each year and our children growing up with stunted lungs, it is the right thing to do.”