The ultimate guide to London's ULEZ charge that'll spread closer to M25
Since October 2021, the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has required vehicles to meet certain emissions standards to enter the capital or pay a charge.
The current ULEZ covers boroughs within, but not including, the North and South Circular. The scheme has reduced roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in inner London by 20 per cent.
Unfortunately, data commissioned by the mayor’s office has revealed that some monitoring stations still exceed new World Health Organization NO2 guidelines.
That means that in August, ULEZ will expand to a new boundary line closer to the M25. The expansion is expected to deliver cleaner air to five million Londoners but for drivers travelling into the zone who don’t own a ULEZ-compliant vehicle, there’s a price to pay.
How much will it cost and how will you be charged?
Drivers of cars, motorcycles and vans (up to and including 3.5 tonnes) that are not ULEZ-compliant will need to pay a daily charge of £12.50 to enter the ULEZ. For heavier vehicles including lorries (more than 3.5 tonnes), buses and coaches (more than five tonnes), the charge is £100 per day. These charges apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except Christmas Day.
The charge runs from midnight to midnight, so if you enter the ULEZ at 8pm and drive out at 1am, you’ll have to pay up twice. Payments can be made online, by phone and on the Transport for London (TfL) Pay app. Regular users can set up an account for automatic payments.
You must pay the ULEZ charge by midnight on the third day following your journey or up to 90 days in advance – or face a penalty of £160 (or £80 if paid within two weeks). This charge is enforced on top of the £15 Congestion Charge so if you enter the heart of London, you pay both.
Why is the charge so expensive?
Studies by the University of Oxford have shown health damage from toxic air costs £6billion annually to the NHS, with the bill from London traffic alone totalling £650million a year as of 2018. Road vehicles cause nearly 50 per cent of the city’s air pollution and studies have linked long-term exposure to vehicular fumes with a range of illnesses, from asthma to dementia.
What are emission standards?
Emissions standards for vehicles were first introduced across Europe in 1970, setting limits on the amount of harmful fumes each vehicle could emit per kilometre driven. The first update, in 1992, was called Euro 1, and the latest is Euro 6.
Are there any exemptions?
Yes. They include specialist vehicles (military, agricultural and mobile cranes) or those with a historic tax class (classic cars that were registered before January 1, 1973). Vehicles with a disabled badge or disabled passenger tax class are ULEZ-compliant until October 2025. There’s a list of exemptions on the TfL website.
How do I check if my car is ULEZ-compliant?
TfL has an online vehicle checker that states whether your vehicle is compliant: simply enter your registration.
What do I do if my car isn’t ULEZ-compliant?
If your vehicle doesn’t qualify and you live in the zone or visit it regularly, upgrading to a ULEZ-compliant vehicle could well be worth your time. But you don’t have to finance a new model – a used car will get the job done if you follow guidelines. Diesel vehicles that meet the latest Euro 6 emissions standards will be ULEZ-compliant. That includes almost every diesel car registered since September 2015 and some dating back as far as 2012.
Petrol-powered cars must meet a different criterion: Euro 4 requirement at least. Nearly all petrol cars sold from 2005 (and some registered between 2001 and 2005) will do so. Be warned: ULEZ-compliant petrol models will be cheaper than diesel models.
Perhaps surprisingly, ULEZ regulations don’t give special treatment to hybrid vehicles, though most petrol-powered hybrids will meet the emissions requirements. However, some diesel hybrid cars sold in 2015 only meet Euro 5 regulations, so avoid these if you want to dodge the £12.50 daily charge.
What about vans and bikes?
Petrol vans entering the ULEZ must meet the Euro 4 standard at least, while diesel vans must reach the Euro 6 requirement. Most petrol vans sold after January 2006 and most diesel vans sold from September 2016 should be ULEZ-compliant. Those travelling on two wheels must meet Euro 3 standards to be ULEZ-compliant, which includes most bikes built after July 2007.
What should I consider if I live within a proposed ULEZ zone?
If you live in the new boundary but don’t drive on a particular day you won’t be charged. But if you do the school run or nip to the supermarket in a non-compliant vehicle, even if the journey ends outside the zone, the charge does apply. Visit the postcode checker.
How to future-proof for ULEZ?
ULEZ might well expand again in future and ULEZ-compliant cars will also benefit by avoiding charges in clean air zones set up in cities such as Birmingham, Bath, Manchester and Glasgow. The ultimate ULEZ-friendly choice is an electric vehicle. They’re automatically compliant as they produce zero tailpipe emissions, though will hit your pocket harder.
Ask the car doctor: does a hybrid car need to be plugged?
Automotive editor Leo Wilkinson says: In short, no. There are, broadly speaking, three types of hybrid car and only one can be plugged in, either to a home or public charger. The clue is in the name: plug-in hybrid (or PHEV). You don’t actually need to plug in a PHEV because it has a petrol or diesel engine to keep you moving. But if you don’t, there won’t be enough battery charge for the electric motor to do its stuff.
It’s much better to keep the battery topped up – fully charged, most plug-in hybrids give you a range of between 30 and 60 miles using the electric motor alone, enough for most daily trips. The two other types of hybrid – mild hybrids and conventional (sometimes called self-charging) hybrids – can’t be plugged in at all.
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