Traffic congestion once meant that residents of the British capital had to endure some of the worst air quality in the western world. Air quality in London has improved in recent years as a result of policies to reduce emissions, primarily from road transport — the city introduced some of the toughest restrictions on heavily polluting cars anywhere.
Suddenly, electric vehicles (EVs) seem very appealing to Londoners.
Air pollution refers to substances in the air that harm health and welfare, plant or animal life. Most pollution in London is caused by road transport and domestic and commercial heating systems. Particulate pollution can harm human hearts and lungs.
London is the 9th largest emitter of CO2 in the world, and pollution affects everyone who lives and works in London. Today’s PM2.5 concentration in London is currently 1.4 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value. This is an average concentration level, yet it is approximately 19% lower than in 2016. With the bad comes a slight good.
EVs sales are on the rise in London and surrounding areas, in large part due to policies that discourage internal combustion engines (ICEs) and promote transportation that alleviates air pollution.
What is the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone?
London’s congestion charge was introduced in 2003 with the aim of reducing traffic and pollution in the capital. Zero emission vehicles are eligible for a 100% discount — all someone has to do is apply for a Cleaner Vehicle Discount right on the Transport for London website.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan unveiled in 2019 an additional £12.50 daily charge on older, higher emission vehicles. The London Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) was introduced in an effort to improve the quality of the air that people breathe in central London by cutting the number of older, higher polluting cars taking journeys through the capital. Among other things, the ULEZ aims to limit harmful pollution such as particulate matter, NO2, and CO2 gases.
The control district was expanded in October, 2021 to cover an area 18 x the size of the central London congestion charge area.
Enforcement is based on the declared emissions of a vehicle, rather than its age. Any vehicle that isn’t ULEZ compliant has to pay a charge for entering the zone. That charge is £12.50 for cars, motorcycles, and vans, and £100 for heavier vehicles, including lorries over 3.5 tons plus buses and coaches over 5 tons.
To support the 2020 goals, more changes are coming. Motorists across the whole of London could be charged for every journey by 2024 under plans being drawn up to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. London’s ultra low emission zone is set to be expanded again in 2023, as Mayor Khan plans to reduce even more pollution in the capital.
A report found car journeys there needed to be cut by more than a quarter to meet net zero emissions targets by 2030. It’s estimated that accomplishing such goals could reduce the amount of CO2 emitted in outer London each year by over 135,000 tons. Khan said air pollution and the climate emergency were “an issue of social justice across the globe – and in London as well, it’s the poorest Londoners, the least likely to own a car, who suffer the consequences.”
Everywhere You Look on London Roads, It’s EVs, EVs
Electric vehicles are exempt from paying any fees in congestion or low emissions zones. In fact, a rule change in October, 2021 tightened the congestion charge so that only fully electrified vehicles are exempt.
Since the restrictions were implemented 3 years ago, the number of licensed battery-electric vehicles has increased more than 4x, and the commensurate drop in diesel cars has been by 25%. Starting in 2030, as the UK begins to phase out sales of new combustion vehicles, zero emission driving will start to become the only option.
The ripple effects of ULEZ keep on accumulating.
- Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, now does a greater share of trips with EVs in London than in any other major city. It has more than 7,000 doing 15% of the driving around the city on its service.
- More than 260 charging points are added on average each month.
- The number of Londoners living in areas exceeding World Health Organization’s legal limits for NO2 dropped from 2 million in 2016 to 119,000 in 2019.
How London is Promoting EVs for Reduced Air Pollution
By switching to a zero emission capable vehicle, people who drive in London can save money on fuel costs, reduce harmful vehicle emissions, and help clean up London’s air. Those attributes are being foregrounded by Transport for London. So, too, are the associated financial benefits.
- Zero emission vehicles that meet the criteria are eligible for a 100% discount on the Congestion Charge.
- The Government offers grants for new plug-in vehicles, currently up to £2,500 for cars, £1,500 for motorcycles, £6,000 for vans, £7,500 for taxis and £16,000 for trucks. Find out about plug-in car grants.
- Zero emission-capable vehicles pay either no vehicle tax (VED) or a reduced rate depending on their CO2 emissions, vehicle list price and year of registration. Find out about tax benefits.
- There is a range of tax incentives for business users.
- Some London boroughs offer free or reduced-charge parking for electric vehicles.
Charging point maps by Zap-Map show where both privately funded and TfL funded rapid charge points, as well as other charger speeds, are installed across London. The maps allows a driver to check which charge points are available, find the nearest rapid charging point, and plan a driving route to go to a rapid charging point. Zap-Map can also be downloaded as an app on a mobile.
The Mayor’s Electric Vehicle (EV) Infrastructure Taskforce, made up of experts representing business, energy, infrastructure, government, and London boroughs, works to unlock barriers to expanding charging infrastructure and accelerating the switch to EVs in London. The London electric vehicle infrastructure delivery plan published in 2019 shows fleets, businesses, and London’s residents that there is a clear way forward towards the right type and amount of charging infrastructure to serve London’s needs.
Its forecasts are continually updated within London’s EV infrastructure strategy.
The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship is headed to London, host city for the London E-Prix Rounds 13 & 14 at ExCeL London on 30 & 31 July, on Clean Air Day, meeting Mayor Sadiq Khan at City Hall and school children and local residents of the Borough of Newham, where the E-Prix was held.
The Mayor gave backing to Formula E in bringing net-zero carbon sport to London, working with the city to showcase the benefits of EVs and raise awareness of the impacts of air pollution and how electric mobility can help curb it and counteract climate change.
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