Ignore ULEZ scare stories – it will reduce traffic and save lives

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Some 80% of vehicles in Croydon are compliant with requirements of the Ultra Low Emission Zone and so will not incur charges. If we want to improve London’s toxic air quality, doing nothing is not an option, says PETER UNDERWOOD

Air quality control: ULEZ reduces traffic, and pollution. Croydon’s Mayor Perry opposes that

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has announced that, from August, the Ultra Low Emission Zone will be extended to cover almost all Greater London including, for the first time, most of the borough of Croydon.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement extending the ULEZ has prompted a backlash from the car and road haulage lobbies, pretending to represent residents while spreading misinformation and outright lies.

This has then been continued by the Conservatives in Croydon and the Liberal Democrats who control Sutton Council, who are saying they will try to obstruct the introduction of the ULEZ.

The noticeable thing about the opposition to ULEZ is that these groups never offer any sensible alternatives to reduce traffic and pollution.

The first thing we need to be clear on is that doing nothing isn’t an option.

London’s main roads are grinding to a halt. Lorries and speeding rat runners are now using our side roads as cut-throughs, putting lives at risk to save them a couple of minutes on their journey.

The climate emergency means we have to cut fossil fuel use. That means a drastic reduction in the use of petrol and diesel.

Health experts have already made clear that pollution caused by traffic shortens the lives of thousands of us every year and harms our children’s lungs for the rest of their lives. Following a courageous battle by her mother, in 2020 Ella Kissi-Debrah who lived in Lewisham became the first person in the country to have air pollution officially listed as a cause of death. I fear she won’t be the last.

Pro-pollution: Croydon Mayor Jason Perry

Jason Perry, the Mayor of Croydon, says that instead of ULEZ, he wants to see improvements in public transport. But it is his Conservative Party colleagues in government that are refusing to fund the public transport we need in London. Where is his protest against insufficient government funding for London transport? Where is his threat to legally challenge Conservative government cuts?

The LibDems in Sutton are no better. It seems odd for them to oppose the ULEZ locally when their London Assembly members voted in favour of it.

Ruth Dombey, Sutton’s council leader, in announcing her opposition to the ULEZ roll-out, said, “We all understand the importance of clean air and recognise the impact pollution has on the lives of people living in our city.”

But how can we take this seriously when she has spent so long defending the Beddington incinerator that she allowed to spew pollution into our air for decades to come?

Opponents to ULEZ often claim to be standing up for the poorest people, but this is clearly not true. The poorest can’t afford a vehicle. As we saw from the recent census, more than one-third of Croydon residents and nearly one-quarter of all Sutton residents don’t live in a household with access to a car or van. They still have to breathe traffic pollution and have their lives put in danger by too much traffic.

So why would stopping the ULEZ benefit them?

The Green Party know that ULEZ isn’t perfect but we have been working to improve it and we have put forward sensible alternatives.

We have been listening to Londoners who are reliant on their vehicles and our Green London Assembly members helped win concessions and funding to help disabled people, and a scrappage subsidy scheme aimed at low-income Londoners, charities and small businesses.

Greens have also shown the Mayor of London how we could improve public transport and give people better alternatives to driving, even under current budgets. Sadly, the Mayor has not adopted them and instead has gone along with Conservative government demands to increase prices on buses – exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.

Misinformation: a less-well-informed demo against ULEZ in Trafalgar Square

For years, Greens have also pushed for a smarter, fairer road charging system to be introduced. Instead of the ULEZ flat rate charge, this would be a charge based on how polluting your vehicle is, how far you drive it, and the charge would also be lower if you only drove in areas with lower levels of pollution.

Last year, we finally achieved a change in the Mayor’s transport strategy enabling the future development of this policy. So this fairer system will hopefully replace ULEZ in years to come.

The groups who oppose the ULEZ are spreading a lot of scare stories, but remember that this is only an expansion of the existing ULEZ.

There are millions of people who already live in the ULEZ zone. They still go to work, their children still go to school, they still go shopping and they still do all the things the rest of us do. More than four out of five vehicles already meet the emissions standards (you can check yours using the TfL vehicle checker) and so the vast majority of people won’t ever pay the ULEZ charge anyway.

A few years ago I decided to live without a car. It has saved me a fortune. Why spend money on tax, MOT and insurance on something that spends the vast majority of its time just parked. With the ever-rising cost of fuel, most journeys are cheaper on public transport. I know a family in the current ULEZ zone worked out that it would be cheaper to stop owning a car and just hire one for the occasional days when they do need to drive. Even those people who have kept their old cars have cut down the number of days they drive to reduce the amount of ULEZ charge they pay.

Overall I don’t think the ULEZ is the best system, but it is a move in the right direction.

It is clear that we can and must change our lifestyles to cut our car use. Just like being required to wear seatbelts or being prevented from smoking in public buildings, it will take time to adjust. But over time, it will save lives.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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21 Responses to Ignore ULEZ scare stories – it will reduce traffic and save lives

  1. Ian Kierans says:

    So why would stopping the ULEZ benefit them?
    ULEZ led to reductions in Central London in some studies in some circumstances.. The Human cost is all too evident. The cost benefit financially is less clear.

    Within Croydon/Sutton
    Would a factor be the SLWP? The Beddington incinerator? The Council contracts that did not factor in costs of ULEZ that may be transferred directly to the Councils if any?

    It is hardly the heavy lorries transporting all those develpment materials contributing to broken pavements from their weight and potholed roads caused by the cracking they cause on roads not designed to take that weight and have signed restrictions.

    You know those restrictions blatently ignored by this Boroughs Planners and enforcement even when provided with photographic evidence of said juggernauts delivering steels and other aggregates in vast quantiites piecemeal to smaller developments? Those powers of enforcement rarely if ever used by this Council to prevent said pollution?

  2. geoffjames2 says:

    Hi Peter, I am not one that aligns to your general political views or that of Labour.

    However, like you, I do generally support the ULEZ expansion, and know it is not the ideal answer . You capture the debate very well in this in article – thank you! Your statement “I don’t think the ULEZ is the best system, but it is a move in the right direction” is so true.

    The root problem is that typical car ownership is capital intensive (either through outright buying the car, or a fixed term purchase agreement). Once the fixed costs are covered the incremental cost per mile to drive the car is tiny. Car owners have grown overly accustomed to this very low nominal cost per mile and need to be weaned away for it.

    The ULEZ and Congestion Charge Zone, for all their faults, create a higher usage charge. This will discourage car use and help the environment.

    I would like to see all the political parties encourage wider availability of pool cars across the borough and London. Then we can really show many of the diehard car owners that there is a cheaper and as convenient alternative option to car ownership.

    Thanks again for an excellent article.

  3. derekthrower says:

    All the hot air and factual pollution in this debate does not seem to want to engage with the fact that only a very small minority of vehicles are not compliant with ULEZ.

    The huge majority of vehicle owners are unaffected by the scheme since they are compliant.

    No administrative scheme will ever be perfect in achieving it’s results, but this provides a meaningful incentive not to use a more polluting vehicle.

    Do the opponents of the scheme grasp this basic point?

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Does not matter if you are for or against a scheme.
      What is relevant is that it is fit for purpose and seeks to provide workable solutions to the problem of harmfull vehicle emissions

      Reducing polluting vehicles by ULEZ is a solution but perhaps likened to a tourniquet on an arterial bleed from a knife wound.

      Removing the weapon might be more appropriate so removing the car usage?

      Removing the manufacturing of the vehicle removes the problem of polluting vehicle emissions completely.?

      So perhaps to an extent banning pollution emitting vehicles achieves more than a ULEZ?

      More effective M.O.Ts focused on failing polluting vehicles of all kinds also removes the ULEZ requirements – does it not?

      So nothing wrong with ULEZ per se and in the absence of anything else I support and welcome it and experience quite some relief and less inhaler usage when pollution reduces.

      But there are other solutions with less detrimental impacts to others. I value being able to breath and not suffering the effects of pollution of my breathing conditions, but I would like a fair and supporting policy to enable those to do so?

  4. The Tories that lied about Brexit, covered up the Russia report and gloss over their corruption and criminality are stirring up public antipathy to the ULEZ with a disinformation campaign.

    Those same Tories just voted to allow mega-rich corporations to continue to pour raw sewage into our rivers and onto our beaches for years to come, but lie about that in their denials.

    The Tories don’t care about water quality or air quality. They don’t care about public health, which is why they’re destroying the NHS as we know it. They don’t care that Londoners are suffering and dying from polluted air, and they don’t care about climate change.

    And the Tories don’t really care that a few people will either end up using their old filthy motors less or will pay more to use them.

    That’s evident from how they’ve allowed public transport fares to rocket while holding back increases in petrol and diesel. They are indifferent to the people in fuel poverty who rely on food banks to get by, and they actively hate workers striking for higher pay because Tory economic policies have eroded their purchasing power and given them lower living standards.

    The Tories are attacking democracy, with their vetoing of a Scottish parliament decision and their plot to undermine the Mayor of London, a politician they’ve failed to outvote two times running. They are encouraging local council leaders like Jason Perry to threaten non-cooperation with TfL over the ULEZ.

    If Sadiq has truly misread the best interests of Londoners over the ULEZ, he could be voted out by Tory supporters in May 2024 – but there’s no chance of that and the Conservatives know it.

    Nye Bevan put it well 75 years ago, when he said of the Tories “they are lower than vermin”. Nothing’s changed

  5. james2023 says:

    I think it’s very dangerous to claim that opposition to the ULEZ expansion is from the haulage lobbies – from what I have seen it is mainly residents who can’t afford to spend thousands of pounds on a new car during a cost of living crisis! The only misinformation I have seen is being spread by the Mayor, claiming that the ULEZ expansion will have a major impact when his own impact assessment says that it will only reduce the concentrations of NOx pollution and particulates by 1.3% and 0.1% respectively! There is also evidence to suggest that the 2021 expansion has made negligible difference to air quality.

    TFL report on 2021 expansion: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/expanded_ultra_low_emission_zone_six_month_report.pdf and is summarised by a BBC news article here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-62224609. Figure 7 in the report shows that the levels of nitrogen dioxide did not reduce in either central, inner or outer London in the 6 months after ULEZ extension

    TFL impact assessment for 2023 ULEZ expansion:
    https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/15619/widgets/44946/documents/27025. It finds that the expanded ULEZ will have a tiny impact on air pollution: the report states that it will be a “minor reduction (-1.3 per cent) in the average exposure of the population of Greater London to NO2 and negligible reductions (-0.1 per cent) in average exposure to PM2.5”. The numbers are in Table 5-5 on page 47

    • geoffjames2 says:

      Yes, I like your stats – but they focus on now and ignore the future.
      The backdrop to all this is
      1) Our roads are already polluted—they are unsafe and are killing people. So any measure that reduces pollution, even small, has significant value
      2) There is an expected increase in car ownership within London. I seem to recall it is between 17% and 52% from 2015 to 2050. Even at the bottom end of this projection our roads can not take the traffic and our residential areas do not have the parking capacity.
      So we must do something. And it certainly involves London residents owning fewer cars and driving far less.
      Ideally central government should be acting, but in the absence of central government Mayor Khan is doing quite well. Taking the most polluting cars off our roads is a first step. But more will still have to be done.
      Those that drive compliant cars today (even those with EVs) will at some point have to pay to drive on London roads in the not too distant future.

      • james2023 says:

        Yes the stats do focus on now – and as the number of non-compliant vehicles decreases (either accelerated by the ULEZ or not), the ULEZ will make even less of a difference in the future. To answer your points:

        1) The impact is so small as to be negligible, yet the cost on tens to hundreds of thousands of less-well-off people is huge. I find it hard to believe that there are not alternative measures that could have more of an impact on air pollution.
        2) Yes agreed, but why not focus on all cars then, rather than those owned by people likely to be poorer? Also, the most polluting cars are naturally being taken off the road as they age,

    • Peter Underwood says:

      What is your alternative plan to reduce traffic and pollution?

      • james2023 says:

        As someone not involved in running the city, it’s not my responsibility to come up with an alternative plan.

        However, as traffic contributes to less than 50% of the air pollution in London, I suspect that restricting wood burning stoves or pollution from construction could have more of an impact on air pollution (but as these would not lead to hundreds of millions of revenue for TFL, they’re of less interest)

      • Ian Kierans says:

        Actually Peter there are many which I am sure the Green Party is fully aware of.

        Perhaps you could ask TfL for ALL their data? Also have a look at this article I popped on for Chris.


        Livingston had an idea of reducing the school runs by allowing children to have free travel – this had a large impact but other factors drove that back up.
        Still remove free pass for schoolchildren and see what occurs. I suspect one will quickly realise it’s beneficial impacts and not just to traffic. Exam results, attendance, truancy will all rise and more so on those more disadvantaged.

        How about actually funding TfL and returning the subsidy to properly invest in its infrastrucure and improving links and reliability – not actual operating.
        How about Developers not cramming ever more families into ever tinnier spaces and NOT ensuring their is services and amenities in place and stop car free developemnts that are not enforces and have residents with more than one car each?

        A lot of Congestion is caused by planners who plan anti car enhancents like the London Road, failing to recognise that without suitable alternatives people will still drive as they have no choice.
        Frankly many of these schemes are singular in approach and implemented without buy in or enforcement that is fair and effective.

        The question really is what fits one’s political/environmental idealogy, which ones are economically viable, which ones are those with the least other detrimetal impacts which ones are capable of broad acceptance and which ones are actually feasible and implementable overall.

        I do feel that a holistic approach to the whole situation should be discusssed and not just in Croydon. There should be a one solution but perhaps multi faceted in scope. Definitely one that can get a majority of the public’s buy in and a good resourced level of enforcement that is not money making as a prime objective but deterrant in focus and instead of fines can eventually lead to a removal of licence to drive temporarily and extended.

        But perhaps we can have that discussion of ideas together over a coffee one day?

    • James, the Road Haulage Association are funding that swivel-eyed loon Howard Cox, of “Fair Fuel”, to campaign against the ULEZ. He moans if the Chancellor of the Exchequer contemplates putting up the price of petrol by a few pence below inflation, screams like a baby about electric cars but keeps schtum on public transport services being cut and fares skyrocketing.

      The Mayor of London is laying on a scrappage scheme, to help owners of old bangers get something better.

      Stop swallowing Tory propaganda. That really is dangerous.

  6. Anthony Miller says:

    I think for a petrol car to fail ULEZ standards it would have to be over 18 years old in which case you could trade up to something 2nd hand but a bit newer and you’d probably make the upfront cost back in increased engine efficiency…. Unless you really want to be driving round in a museum piece from when Tony Blair was in power for sentimental reasons or just to avoid the upfront costs …

    Diesels it’s a bit more difficult due to the dodgy dealings of motor manufacturers but that’s a very small proportion of private cars…

    The people really picking up the costs will be van drivers and delivery vehicles and these costs will be passed onto customers….

    • james2023 says:

      If you want to be driving around in a museum piece make sure it’s over 40 years old, then you’re ULEZ exempt

      • Over 50 years; “Vehicles built before 1 January 1973” are among those that are exempt. Details aren’t your strong point James

      • Anthony Miller says:

        I think you’d have considerable cost issues maintaing a car 40-50 years old. Along with advances in engine design there have been advanced in lubricants which give the engines longer life now… It’s probably a challenge these days to get the correct viscosity oil to run them at all … Just getting it serviced properly would be a challenge… This maybe why Terry McCann’s old Ford Capri caught fire recently… There also comes a point where the undercarriage rusts through which is where you enter Trigger’s Broom territory… How many repairs can you do and it still be the same car?

  7. Lewis White says:

    I would like to see the figures, vital statistics and modelling.

    Not talking about the Miss UK competition (if it still exists) but about the traffic facts of the nation.

    Regarding the figures – a simple one would be Mileage per year driven by each car or van. We all have an MOT. Would it not be simple for the Government to require an annual mileage return to be made by the garage doing the MOT ? The DLV could see the age of the vehicle, and the CO2 it emits.

    It would then be possible to work out the annual amount of CO2, NO2, and maybe a rough indication of the particulates from the engine. Even, from the wear and tear of the tyres.

    It would be possible then to work out whether older cars are really a significant polluter, taking into consideration mileage done in the year, relative to modern vehicles.

    The modelling could then see the exact amount of CO2, NO2, and particulates being emitted nationwide. CO2 knows no boundaries– CO2 emitted in London will affect not just Londoners. It kills the planet, rather directly killing the locals, is my guess.

    I would imagine that Nitrous Oxide and the particulates are the immediate threat to human health for all the people who live in / work in, visit, and breathe the air of London.

    Locally, in London, anyone viewing London from the hills of South Croydon can see on most days the dark grey pall of smog, mostly from vehicle particulates of various kinds, sitting like a greasy dark grey lid over the whole of central London from Heathrow to Woolwich. These do affect Londoners, directly, getting into their lungs and then , hearts and blood to be conveyed around the whole body.

    The problem must be the miles travelled.
    A pensioner who does a weekly trip to the shops in their old car and an occasional visit to see family probably clocks up 2000 miles a year?

    How about a CUV driver taking the kids to school or schools every term day ? Quite a bit more, is my guess as to the mileage, 6000 ?

    What about the person who drives from the Medway towns to SE London, or Crawley to Sutton or Croyodn every day to work, and back?. 15,000 ?

    Or the Watford or Hounslow builders who drive to do jobs in Croydon or Dartford ? And the Dartford builders who drive the opposite way to do jobs in West London and the M3 M4 corridor. It all seems so ridiculous, if it were not so tragic.

    I myself need to drive, want to do so, responsibly. I am not seeking to deny anyone the right to drive, but the amount travelled by us collectively is the killer.

    My answer is to give private motorists a personal yearly mileage allowance. After that, pay per 1000 miles travelled.

    That would relate mileage to pollution.

    Let the polluter pay ….. and in doing so, many of them might decide to work closer to home, get the bus or train, work from home a few days a week, or mqke the kids go to school by bus.

    All of which would reduce the daily pollution load breathed in by Londoners, by everyone living along their daily route to work, and would reduce the amount of C2O and NO2 thrown up into the atmosphere of our only home, Planet Earth..

  8. Haydn White says:

    The ULEZ is a money making scam for Khan and Co and when he has squeezed all he can from the ULEZ because all the non compliant cars have been priced off the roads dont think that he will just have the cameras taken out ,you will then be charged for the pleasure of driving over our pothole strewn roads, any chance of Khan spending some of his millions on road improvement no I thought not.

  9. The Anti – ULEZ campaign is certainly being whipped up by the Tories in Croydon, probably because they know that voting Conservative in London has as much attraction as catching the plague.

    I know many points have been raised already but it may help to get some perspective and some sense of proportion to re-iterate that very few people indeed run old polluting diesel vehicles, and there is a lot of evidence about the damage particulates do to human lungs, for example the successful court case of the poor child who lived alongside the South Circular in Catford and died from that cause.

    So we have a political party who are adopting this cause to enhance their own flagging popularity, a few selfish people who won’t pay up to get less harmful vehicles ( yes, we’ve all been hard up and had to make financial sacrifices to switch to newer, lower cc petrol cars) and a failure to see that we’re polluting each other as well as the planet.

    Before long the Anti people will be seen in the same light as the Flat Earth Society, the Anti – Smoking in public areas, and the Anti – Seat belt campaigners.

    If they want to campaign about something relevant, what about the Moneterist Economics of this government, which caps wages, lets high prices run rampant and is causing many more people much more poverty than the ULEZ charge ever will?

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