All You Need To Know About Ultra Low Emission Zones In The UK

In this article, we walk you through the new Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) and help you find out if you have to pay.

In an increasingly environmentally-aware world, it’s no surprise that governments are looking for ‘green’ initiatives to cut down on pollution. In the UK, one of the more well-known initiatives has been the introduction of Low Emission Zones (LEZ).

The London LEZ was first proposed in 2006 and came into effect on 4th February 2008, with tighter regulations introduced in July that same year. Even stricter regulations were recently introduced earlier on 1st March 2021. The LEZ covers most of Greater London, and there are now also LEZs in other UK cities such as Glasgow, Bath and Birmingham. A number of other UK cities have announced plans to introduce LEZs or Clean Air Zones either later in 2021 or in 2022, including Manchester, Newcastle, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh.

How Does It Work?

The basic idea behind LEZs is that by restricting certain vehicles, or by charging them when entering the LEZ, many drivers will think twice about entering the zone. Either they will opt for another form of transport (such as public transport) or make a permanent switch to lower-emitting vehicles like electric cars or plug-in hybrids. Vehicles limited are primarily older diesel and petrol-powered taxis, vans and LGVs, although privately owned cars are being included in some areas too.

The LEZ is in place 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, basically operating as a series of fines for vehicles that don’t meet emissions standards. At the moment most LEZs only cover larger vehicles, such as lorries over 3.5 tonnes, coaches over five tonnes, larger vans, minibuses and motorised caravans. While these vehicles aren’t banned from entering the LEZs, they can face a daily fee of £100 to £200 depending on the size and type of vehicle.


So How Is The ULEZ Different?

The Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) is different from the LEZ in that it applies to regular cars as well. The ULEZ is closer to the Congestion Charge which was introduced in 2003 by then-mayor Ken Livingstone to cut down on private traffic in London. The Congestion Charge had the desired effect, cutting private car usage by 39% between 2002 and 2014, according to statistics from the London Assembly. The ULEZ is an attempt to further cut private traffic, especially from high-emission vehicles, and to improve air quality in London.

Currently the ULEZ operates in the same area as the Congestion Charge, although it will be expanded to the North and South circular boundaries from 25 October 2021. There’s nothing physically stopping you from entering the ULEZ. It’s well signposted and watched by a ring of number-plate reading cameras. If your car isn’t compliant and you don’t pay the entry fee, you’ll be sent a fine by mail. The fine is currently  £80 if you pay it within 14 days and £160 thereafter. If you don’t want to be hit with a fine, you also need to pay a £12.50 fee on top of the £11.50 Congestion Charge.


Do I Have To Pay Or Am I Exempt?

All vehicles in the ULEZ need to be compliant to the stated emissions standards in order to be exempt from payment. The LEZs around the UK and the ULEZ all run according to a system known as the European Emissions Standards. These are a series of standards that have been set by the European Union over the past 30 years, and are called ‘Euro 1’ through ‘Euro 6’, depending on when the standard was introduced. ‘Euro 7’ is expected to be defined later this year and introduced by 2025.

In order to be exempt from the ULEZ payment your vehicle needs to meet the following standards :

  • Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles
  • Euro 4 for petrol cars, vans and minibuses (up to and including 5 tonnes)
  • Euro 6 for diesel cars, vans and minibuses (up to and including 5 tonnes)

If your vehicle doesn’t meet these standards then you will need to pay £12.50 for every day you enter or leave your car in the zone, or £100 a lorry, coach or any buses exceeding 5 tonnes. The only exceptions are for black cabs and cars registered with disabled drivers or as disabled passenger vehicles.

If you’re unsure whether your vehicle is compliant, the TfL website makes things easy: you can enter your number plate on their website and they'll tell you if you need to pay the daily fee in the ULEZ. 

For drivers in and around city centres, these restrictions may make hybrid or fully electric cars a more appealing option. As more cities in the UK adopt LEZs and Clean Air Zones, it will be interesting to see which other major cities around the world follow in London’s footsteps.

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