London Puts a High Price on Driving Older, Polluting Cars - City Lab

The streets of central London are about to have some of the toughest anti-pollution measures in any major city.

On Monday, the city’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone takes effect, charging £12.50 ($16.40) to anyone who enters it driving a gas-powered car that’s built before 2006. That charge will be placed on top of the existing congestion charge of £11.50 ($15.10), meaning drivers of older vehicles will have to pay a substantial £24 ($31.50) for every day they drive into the zone.

And that’s not all. The rules will be even more stringent for diesel vehicles, and for trucks and private buses that use either diesel or gas. Any diesel-fueled car built before 2015 will have to pay the charge, while buses and trucks built before 2015 will have to pay £100 ($131.30). The charges will essentially make driving older, more polluting vehicles financially unviable on a regular basis. In other words, they’re so high that they’re effectively a soft ban—one that Transport for London predicts will affect up to 40,000 cars, 19,000 vans, 2,000 trucks, and 700 private buses.

What makes these plans even more striking is that the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) is only the beginning. The Central London charge is just the first stage in a staggered, two-step plan—and it will likely prove far less controversial than what’s to follow.

The Central London ULEZ won’t be controversy-free, but it will possibly have a smoother introduction because it builds on charges already in place. Covering the area of London’s current Congestion Charge Zone, the ULEZ inaugurated on Monday will operate in a part of the city that London drivers have been paying to enter since 2003. This makes the first step a little easier, not least because the technology for enforcement is already in place. Cameras along the zone’s perimeter check license plates against data on who has paid the charge, and fines are sent out to any vehicle required to pay that hasn’t done so within a week. This charge has already had a major effect on London’s driving habits, reducing the number of private vehicles on London’s roads so that they now form a minority portion of the on-road fleet as a whole.

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