London emissions charge drives sharp fall in high-pollution vehicles

The first month of London’s new anti-pollution scheme has seen a sharp fall in the number of higher emissions vehicles driving into the capital.

Sadiq Khan, London Mayor, welcomed the change sparked by the introduction of the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in response to the capital’s toxic air health crisis and said this clearly showed that “bold action reaps rewards”.

The first data collected during April indicates that every day on average 9,400 fewer higher polluting vehicles that do not meet emissions standards drove into central London.

Non-compliant cars and vans have to pay an additional daily charge of £12.50 when entering the Congestion Zone, while high-pollution lorries, buses and coaches face a £100 charge.

The number of the worst polluting vehicles in the zone fell from 35,578 in March to 26,195 after the charge was introduced. And the number dropped by 36,000 compared with February 2017 when ULEZ plans were announced.

Sadiq Khan said:

 “Just one month after launching the world’s first ULEZ, leading the way for cities around the globe, we have already seen a significant impact on the types of vehicles driving in the centre of our capital and polluting our air. These were big changes, and vital ones – our toxic air is an invisible killer responsible for one of the biggest national health emergencies of our generation.

“It’s early days, but it’s great to see Londoners and businesses are doing their bit to make a difference, with nearly three quarters of the vehicles driving into central London each day now meeting the standards required to turn around this public health crisis.”

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of vehicles in the zone in April complied with the new pollution limits, compared with 61% in March.

A large proportion of that fall can be attributed to drivers switching to cleaner cars and vans, including electric vehicles (EVs). While EV numbers are small as a proportion of total vehicle mix in the UK, there is a dramatic rise in sales of these near zero pollution models.

Positive health benefits

The figures were welcomed by clean air campaigners, signalling that motorists are changing behaviour to reduce air pollution that has serious health effects.

Research shows that polluting vehicles account for around half of London’s harmful NOx emissions and air pollution is a serious health issue in central London, particularly for children as it triggers chronic asthma, a major factor in ill health for the young.

Air pollution is also responsible for thousands of premature deaths each year in London and across the UK and causes chronic health problems for millions more people.

Dr Penny Woods, British Lung Foundation Chief Executive, said:

“Air pollution can make life more difficult for people with lung conditions. It can cause their symptoms to flare up, often so badly they need to be admitted to hospital. Parents should also know polluted air is especially dangerous for children’s lungs – as well as stunting lung growth it can set them up for host of health problems in their future.

“What’s needed now is the ULEZ’s expansion and for the rest of the UK to introduce similar measures.”

Compliance has been improving since February 2017, when the Mayor confirmed the introduction of the Toxicity Charge (T-Charge) as a first move towards ULEZ and there has been a reduction of approximately 20% in NOx concentrations in the zone.

A more robust picture of the impact of ULEZ will emerge over the next few months as more detailed research and data are released. And from October 2021, the ULEZ scope will expand to cover the entire area within the north circular inner ring road and south circular inner ring road sections.

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