Two and a half years ago I wrote about a game you could play in London if you were so inclined: take a walk down a suburban residential street and count the cars that would be hit by the £12.50 per day ULEZ charge.
We are now less than three months from the date that hefty daily fee will start to apply, 24 hours a day, 364 days a year, to a much bigger area and the game hasn’t changed much.
The roads where many ordinary Londoners live, outside of the capital’s centre and stretching out to the North and South Circular boundaries, are still packed with lots of older cars that will incur the cost.
It seems to me that either there are a lot of people who have resigned themselves to forking out £650 a year if they drive their car just once a week – or £1,950 if they go crazy and move it three days a week – or a lot of car-owning Londoners still haven’t quite twigged the extent of ULEZ.
London’s £12.50 ULEZ charge will expand from the tight central zone all the way out to encompass the area within the North and South Circular roads from 25 October – and other cities and towns are being encouraged to bring in their own versions
And before you dismiss this as a London thing, remember cities and towns across the UK are under pressure to roll out their own versions.
The ULEZ acronym stands for ultra low emission zone and it is London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s brainwave to clean up the capital’s polluted air.
The Mayor is gunning for private car owners with a take no prisoners approach that will whack those with older vehicles for £12.50 if they so much as turn a wheel, round the clock, every single day of the year (except Christmas).
And unlike the congestion charge, there is no residents’ discount.
Cars that don’t come up to scratch are petrol cars not meeting Euro 4 standards – broadly those sold new before 2006 – and diesel cars that don’t meet Euro 6 standards – broadly those sold new earlier than 2015.
Owners in the latter category are among those who feel most aggrieved. They fall into the bracket of people encouraged to buy diesel cars because they were better for the planet, only to subsequently be demonised for pumping out nitrogen oxide (NOx) that’s bad for people’s health.
Their cars also really aren’t that old in the grand scheme of things and some might struggle financially to replace them.
If you drive a brand new Bentley Bentayga with a six figure price tag you won’t pay the £12.50 per day ULEZ charge
A family with a ten-year-old diesel Nissan Qashqai worth about £4,000 will have to pay £12.50 every day they drive it though, amounting to £650 a year even if that’s just once a week
It’s here where the ULEZ expansion’s noble aim, cleaning up air quality, intersects with the worst thing about the policy: it’s effectively a deeply regressive tax on having a car and uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut approach.
Because while a family may find themselves paying through the nose to use their ten-year-old 1.5 litre diesel Nissan Qashqai, the owner of a brand new 6 litre W12-engined Bentley Bentayga Speed can drive around London to their heart’s content without paying a penny in ULEZ charges.
The Mayor has decided that this 2.5 tonne behemoth with its 14mpg urban fuel economy is a more commendable form of transport than an old family wagon Nissan
The Nissan might be worth about £4,000, its owner is possibly scraping by on relatively low wages compared to London’s expensive living costs, and might have no choice but to swiftly drop the kids off at breakfast club a few days a week by car before rushing off to work.
The Bentley will set you back at least £180,000 and is ideal for ostentatiously cruising about, but the Mayor has wisely decided that this 2.5 tonne behemoth with its 14mpg urban fuel economy is a more commendable form of transport than an old family wagon Nissan.
This is not to pick on Bentley here; the Bentayga is simply a convenient example of a huge, powerful, gas-guzzling luxury SUV that is commonly seen on the streets of London.
Other new cars that you may like to pick out that are ULEZ-free include the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Porsche Cayenne, Lamborghini Urus, Ferrari California, Range Rover, BMW X7, Mercedes G Class aka the G Wagen, and Aston Martin DBX.
Lamborghini’s fire-breathing supercar SUV, the Urus, also passes ULEZ and pays nothing, despite tiny MPG figures and huge CO2 output
Somewhat amusingly – although presumably not so much so if you are trying to offload a £4,000 family car and find an extra £4,000 to replace it with a compliant one – if you look at the cars on that list advertised second hand, they will often state they pass ULEZ.
This is because while they might have colossal CO2 outputs and tiny MPG figures, these cars manage to pass NOx emission levels, whereas older vehicles don’t.
Fortunately, there is a ULEZ exemption for some classic cars – but only those meeting the 40 years old definition – more modern classics on the other hand get caught by the charge.
Cleaning up the air we breathe is an admirable aim, but I cannot see how ULEZ being brought in the way it is can be justified
Arguably it is much harder to defend the ownership of a car for fun rather than necessity, which many of those modern classics are, but plenty of them are used as sole cars by their owners.
Many owners will decide the ULEZ bill is too much and their interesting cars will depart London’s roads.
Our streets will be poorer without the chance to spot the odd nice, 1980s BMW 3 Series, Golf GTI, 205 GTI, Mercedes SL, Porsche 944, 928, 968 or 911, or even just a bog standard breadvan VW Polo.
As I said previously, cleaning up the air we breathe is an admirable aim, but I cannot see how ULEZ being brought in the way it is can be justified. Surely, weekends or evenings and their quieter roads could gain an exemption, or a resident’s discount timezone?
I also still don’t believe that many people aren’t going to get a rude awakening when they realise what it means for them.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.