ULEZ expansion is more about money than clean air

By Jonathan Eida, researcher


Sadiq Khan’s ultra low emissions zone (ULEZ) expanded to cover all London boroughs this week. This regressive levy will cost drivers £12.50 a day and will not make significant headway in terms of cleaning up London’s air. Khan should be up front and admit that ULEZ is nothing more than a revenue raising scheme that makes cash cows of motorists. 

For many, driving is not an optional hobby, but a day-to-day necessity, and Khan’s charge will hit small business owners hard. Many people working trades and services rely on vehicles for their daily function, and £12.50 is no light charge. As a result, many of those who cannot fork out for a whole new vehicle, an expensive investment, will be faced with two choices: Either pay up or stop driving. 

Indeed, TPA research has shown that it will be the poorest in London paying the price for the expansion. Three of the four poorest boroughs in London are expected to pay the highest percentage of fines, while wealthier neighbourhoods will be best placed able to adjust. 

Little solace will be found in the scrappage scheme. Offering £2,000 to anyone who will scrap their car presents very little in return for an expensive pay out. A recent high court judicial review declared that while lawful, the consultation on the scheme was ‘not in depth’. 

To be clear, there is a noble cause at the heart of this, but any such sentiment is lost in entirety by its futile means. A regressive tax hitting the poorest across London does not offer a sustainable or fair clean air solution. TfL is predicting that in its first year, the expansion of ULEZ will bring in £300m. Khan is pursuing a revenue raising scheme dressed up as something else.

Meanwhile, London’s taxpayers continue to fork out for bloated bills. The majority of the capital’s councils have this year raised council tax by the maximum of 4.99 per cent. This comes on top of the various road taxes - fuel duty, vehicle excise duty and congestion charges. 

And there is clear dissatisfaction from residents. Following Labour’s failure to win the Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat in a recent by-election before the expansion had taken place, Keir Starmer urged the mayor to “reflect” on his plans. As commuters in outer-London and the home counties know all too well, the mayor pressed on. 

ULEZ places yet another burden on those already struggling, and puts enterprise on the line. Now, motorists across the UK will hope that their town hall bosses apply the brakes to any plans for similar schemes in their areas. 

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