Ultra-low emission zones and clean air zones are designed to tackle pollution in major UK cities. Here’s everything you need to know.
- The first ULEZ was introduced in London
- Drivers of high-emission vehicles pay a charge to enter the zone
- More of these clean air zones are being brought in across the UK
It’s no secret transport’s a major factor when it comes to pollution levels. In 2019, transport responsible for around 27% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. So it’s little wonder the way we travel has come under massive scrutiny in recent years.
With the government announcing a shift towards EV (electric vehicles) from 2030 and increasing access to public charging points, more drivers are changing the way they think.
The introduction of ultra-low emission zones (ULEZ) in 2019 was designed to cut emissions in big cities. Drivers of high-polluting vehicles are charged when they’re in a ULEZ.
Find out everything you need to know about ULEZ, how to know if you have a ULEZ compliant car, and the ways you can pay a ULEZ charge.
What does ULEZ mean?
ULEZ stands for ultra-low emission zone. It’s a restricted driving area within a city with high levels of pollution. The aim of a ULEZ is to reduce the number of high-emission cars travelling within it.
In London, drivers of older and/or high-emission vehicles face charges of £10 to £12.50 a day when they drive within the city’s ULEZ. Larger vehicles such as buses, coaches, and lorries can be charged £100 a day if they don’t meet the required standards.
Why were ULEZ zones introduced?
The UK introduced the world’s first ULEZ zone in London in 2019. Within its first month, vehicle numbers in the London ultra-low emission zone dropped from 35,578 to 26,195 . It’s also estimated that nitrogen dioxide pollution dropped five times quicker within this zone and around central London compared to the rest of the UK.
Where are the UK’s ULEZ zones?
ULEZ zones are restricted to London, although Birmingham and Bath launched similar Clean Air Zones (CAZ) in 2021. More local authorities, such as Portsmouth and Glasgow, are expected to introduce similar vehicle restrictions soon.
The London ultra-low emission zone is in operation 24 hours a day, 364 days a year (Christmas Day being the only exception). It covers areas within the North and South circular roads in central London. Generally, most vehicles that don’t meet the emissions standards must pay a daily fee of £12.50 to drive within the zone.
Birmingham launched its Clean Air Zone in June 2021. It’s in effect 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The ULEZ zone map covers the A4540 Middleway. Most regular high-emission vehicles, such as cars and taxis, are charged £8 a day to drive within the zone, while it’s £50 a day for buses, coaches, and HGVs.
Glasgow’s similar low emissions zone (LEZ) is in its first phase and restrictions only apply to local service buses. The zone is active 24/7 and charges start at £60.
From June 2023, the second phase will include all vehicles (except motorbikes, mopeds, and similar vehicles) driving within the city centre zone.
The LEZ currently covers an area in central Glasgow from the M8 to the north and west, south of the River Clyde, and to the east of Saltmarket/High Street. Phase 2 of the LEZ will see it expand.
Bath’s ULEZ zone map covers the majority of the city centre and is active 24/7. The zone charges mainly large and private hire vehicles, such as buses, coaches, HGVs, taxis, vans and minibuses.
For smaller vehicles, the charge is £9 per day, while buses and HGVs can be charged £100 if they don’t meet the emissions standards.
Future ULEZ zones
Besides the ULEZs currently active across the UK, there are set to be more introduced over the next few years.
Portsmouth’s new ULEZ zone will be active from 29 November 2021. The charges start at £10 per day for non-compliant private hire vehicles and £50 for HGVs and buses. The zone will be in effect around the city centre, surrounding Gunwharf Keys, the University, Cascades and M275.
The Newcastle CAZ is set to be effective from July 2022. Larger vehicles that don’t meet the required standards will be charged £50 per day, while vans and private hire cars will be charged £12.50.
Sheffield’s Clean Air Zone is launching in late 2022. Daily charges for LGVs and taxis that don’t meet emission standards will be £10, while there will be a £50 fee for buses, coaches, and HGVs. The zone will cover a large section of the city centre, including Park Square and the A61/Parkway Junction.
Greater Manchester will introduce a Clean Air Zone from May 2022. It will operate on a 24/7 basis and the ULEZ exempt vehicles will cover private cars, motorbikes, or similar vehicles. Vans and minibuses will be charged £10 a day if found to be breaching emissions standards, while HGVs, buses, and coaches will be landed with a £60 fee.
Bradford will introduce a Clean Air Zone in 2022. It will cover the area inside, and including, the Bradford outer ring road as well as extending along the Manningham Lane, Bradford Road and Canal Road area to include Shipley and Saltaire.
Privately owned vehicles won’t be charged, but other non-compliant vehicles will be. Charges are set to be £50 for HGVs, coaches and buses. Minibuses and light goods vehicles will be charged £9. Private hire vehicles will pay £7.
Discussions surrounding the Edinburgh LEZ were finalised in October 2021, with hopes that the zone will be introduced on 31 May 2022. The zone will cover a large portion of the city centre, effective 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Plans for the Aberdeen LEZ are being finalised. The current proposal is to charge drivers of older petrol and diesel vehicles, HGVs, buses, and coaches. It’s expected to launch in 2022.
The Dundee LEZ is set to be launched on 30 May 2022. It will cover a large area of the city centre and some of its surrounding roads and will target private hire vehicles, buses, coaches, and HGVs that don’t meet emissions standards.
In Scottish cities, all non-compliant vehicles will be charged £60 per day, reduced by 50% if paid within 14 days.
How much does it cost to drive in ultra-low emission zones?
There’s no flat charge for driving in a ULEZ. Every location sets different charges, based on the vehicle type or time spent within the zone. Most ULEZ or similar restricted zones consider the age of a diesel or petrol car when deciding whether or not it should be charged.
What does ULEZ compliant mean?
If your vehicle is compliant, you’re free to drive in low emission zones without charge.
The main types of vehicles set to be charged within ULEZ and Clean Air Zones are those registered before a certain date – and which therefore give off higher emissions. Larger vehicles such as buses and HGVs will also be charged due to their size and emission rates. Electric vehicles are exempt from charges in any low emission zone.
The fees are decided by evaluating your vehicle against the Euro emissions classes. You can use the ULEZ vehicle checker to see if you could face charges in your local zone. It’s also important to note that charges differ whether you’re in England or Scotland.
How to pay ULEZ charges
Depending on the location of the zone, the way you pay ULEZ fees may differ. However, across most locations, you can pay online, set up AutoPay options, or even pay via an app.
Signs will be in place to warn you’re about to enter an ultra-low emission zone, so you’ll be expected to voluntarily pay the fee within a set time. If you don’t pay within the time limit stated in your local zone, you’ll be sent a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN).
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