ULEZ and Just Transition Debate

Mar 8, 2023

CyclistsPhoto by Possible

Photo: Possible

This Blog contains a number of statements and briefings on the Ultra Low Emissions Zone extension.

  • Editor’s view (pers cap)
  • Health impacts of Polluted Air in Outer London – Imperial College
  • Mum’s for Lungs view
  • Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN) statement
  • Friends of the Earth Briefing
  • The truth about Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – Possible

Making Positive Demands to clean up our air and cut car dependence

Anyone who watched the London Mayor’s Question Time from Ealing last week will not have missed the atmosphere of fear and loathing that make this issue almost as toxic as the air we breathe.

There are four overlapping imperatives when dealing with transport in cities.

That greenhouse gas emissions from transport are a quarter of the UK’s total and have not declined for ten years because, while car engines have become more efficient, more people are driving them, and the models they are driving are heavier. This has to be cut hard and fast to allow us to survive as a society.

People have to get around and, overall, cars are becoming more of a problem than a solution. If the 40% of people in London who don’t have cars did, no one would be able to get anywhere; because the streets would be gridlocked. The individual “aspiration” to own a car becomes socially dystopian if universally realised. For freer flowing, quieter, safer streets, we need fewer cars and fewer car journeys. We will have less of a need to travel inconvenient distances if we enrich our immediate neighbourhoods. 

We need cleaner air for our health and life expectancy. 90% of people want it. Some people drive. Everybody breathes. 

Some people are locked into car use, because they can’t afford to live near work and need concrete affordable alternatives as they are understandably anxious about how they are going to cope.

There’s no doubt that Outer London has a problem with air quality. Boris Johnson has claimed, airily as ever, that it doesn’t. But a cursory check of three random postcodes in his constituency shows all three in the bottom 10% (91st, 93rd and 98th percentile) for air quality and all in breach of 3 WHO limits. You can check the air quality in your own postcode here. There is also no doubt that the existing ULEZ has had a positive impact on air quality in the city. Figure 1

And on the proportion of non compliant vehicles. Figure 2

This is more marked in Inner London, where the ULEZ is in place, than Outer London, where it so far is not. Figures 3 & 4

People with difficulties in Outer London are among that non-compliant 15%, driving around 200,000 vehicles. Most of the 1.3 million journeys that take place among the 5 million people who live in Outer London are already compliant so they will not face a charge under the ULEZ. The people who have to are a minority, but there are still quite a lot of them.

Let’s look at some solutions to problems with getting to and from work and do so as concretely as possible.

1) Scrappage scheme. The current scrappage scheme amounts to £110 million. With £2000 per car, this could help up to 50,000 people; a quarter of the currently non-compliant 200,000. It seems strange that Conservative opponents of the ULEZ are complaining that this is not enough, but are not joining the Mayor in calling for the government to match fund as they have done in other cities. This would double the fund and help half of the affected people replace their vehicle or move to public transport. An important part of the scheme is that Options are… available which include a lower payment plus one or two adult-rate Annual Bus & Tram Passes that are worth more than the payment alone. If everyone wants cleaner air, and to help people get rid of their polluting cars without going bust, why isn’t this a consensus campaign across all Parties?

2) Improve Public Transport in Outer London. Cuts to services have been imposed on TFL since the pandemic as a condition of short-term funding settlements by the Conservative government, because they see TFL primarily as a business aiming to make money, not a strategic transport asset that is a powerful lever to achieve social good. Again, all Parties can combine to call on the national government to fund TFL like every other European Capital City funds its transport service. This would enable things like free travel cards for every key worker, cheaper fares for everyone else, extended services based on a needs consultation and a quicker electrification of the bus fleet.

3) All Parties could combine to call on large employers to provide free travel cards as part of their salary package, and trade unions should seek to negotiate this, as the RMT has just done for outsourced cleaners at TFL. Cross party support from this at City Hall would send employers a strong message; and unions should seek parity with best practice. Large employers could run medium distance works bus routes in negotiation with TFL, as some schools do for their pupils.

4) All Parties could combine to press employers to sponsor e-bike salary sacrifice schemes for as many employers as possible, especially for those who work anti-social hours when fewer buses or tubes are running. A lot of workers live in the same or adjacent borough to their workplace, as UNITE has noted in the case of Heathrow – The majority of workers employed at Heathrow live close to the airport in West London, particularly in the boroughs of Hillingdon and Hounslow that surround the airport- making commuting by e-bike a cheap, flexible and convenient way to get to and from work.

5) Step up the provision of EV charging points. It is noticeable that the strongest opponents of the ULEZ are also among the boroughs that have done least to put this infrastructure in place; so are partly complaining of the consequences of their own negligence.

This list is not exhaustive but is in the framework that cleaner, greener streets and cheaper ways to get about are a necessity for both a livable city and the reduction in emissions that we need if we are to keep a livable planet. Having a strong vision for what we want our streets and cities to look like – as Possible have done here can give us hope that things do not have to stay as they are. Beeston Road in South Leeds reimagined: Photo Possible.

Paul Atkin (Ed, pers cap)

Health impacts of Polluted Air in Outer London

You can test the air quality for the place you live on the addresspollution.org site, which is run by Imperial College.

They identify the health consequences of breaching WHO limits for one postcode in Uxbridge as follows.

Pollutant one: PM2.5: At this address, the annual average of the pollutant PM2.5 is 12.73mcg/m3. The World Health Organization limit is 5mcg/m3.

  • This study shows 19.9% of strokes were attributed to exposure (for a year or more) of PM2.5 concentrations exceeding 10mcg/m3.
  • PM2.5 can also cause asthma, jeopardise lung functions and promote cancer.

Pollutant two: PM10: The reading for PM10 at this address is 20.59mcg/m3. The limit is 15mcg/m3.

Pollutant three: NO2: The reading for N02 at this address is 39.88mcg/m3. The limit is 10mcg/m3.

The view from Mum’s for Lungs

Mums for Lungs has been campaigning for clean air for everyone, especially for children and babies, for over 5 years. As parents we have seen first-hand the terrible impacts of air pollution on our children’s health – several of our members have spent multiple nights in hospital with children suffering breathing difficulties. But it’s not only children that suffer – air pollution is connected to an estimated 300,000 early deaths across Europe every year, and a staggering range of health problems including lung cancer, childhood asthma, heart disease, Parkinson’s, dementia, teenage psychosis and miscarriage. Air pollution affects every organ in the body and its effects are life-long.

So with such an extreme health burden across our cities, the question is not whether we act, but how. In this way we believe there are some key steps policy makers can take to try to tackle air pollution from all its sources. We have seen some dramatic impacts from the introduction of London’s Ultra Low Emission zone – following its launch in central London in 2019, kerbside Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels dropped by 44%. When the zone was expanded to reach the north and south circular roads in 2021, another fall of 21% was recorded. This will have directly contributed to children being able to breathe more easily across our cities.

We recognise that changing the way we get around our cities causes concern to many families who are facing difficulties in the cost of living crisis. We understand that people often need a car to get to work because public transport alternatives are not always attractive or available. We believe that those who are designing the policies must take these worries into consideration and design clean urban transport policies with mitigation measures to enable people to make the switch to cleaner alternative mobility options such as walking, cycling and public transport. For example, Clean Cities Campaign recently launched a report which showed the best options are to provide a good scrappage scheme, cheap public transport passes and help with the costs of buying a bike.

80% of people in Copenhagen cycle all winter – and life carries on as normal. ‘I will if you will’. Photo: Colville-Andersen /

This is not a zero-sum game. There are clear costs associated with inaction – it’s estimated that the loss of welfare due to air pollution is around £10bn for Londoners every year – that’s over £1,200 for every one of us living in the city. That is money which could go towards our schools, to social care, to creating new green spaces. Why are we not taxing energy companies making record profits and using these revenues to fund scrappage schemes – or why not claim money owed to us from car manufacturers linked to the ‘dieselgate’ scandal, and use that to make clean transport options more available?

There is a social equity dimension to this – research suggests that it is often low-income households and communities of colour who are suffering the worst health impacts of air pollution, yet are less likely to own a car or drive longer distances. Evidence also suggests that rather than it being the case that low-income families would be more likely to own an ‘old banger’ – much diesel pollution comes from SUV vehicles and families with multiple cars driving longer distances. In fact, older petrol vehicles (up to 16 years old) are exempt from the ULEZ charge.

There are solutions out there to make this fair and possible for everyone. We call on city leaders to consider the needs of all citizens in their cities, not just car drivers. We urge them to develop support packages which will help us all to make the change to clean forms of urban transport.

Celeste Hicks Mums for Lungs


The Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN) accepts as very necessary and overdue the efforts to clean up the extremely unhealthy air we have endured for far too many years, unhealthy air that is continuing to cause life shortening and life impacting disabilities. We fully support initiatives such as Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) and the forthcoming expansion in London. However there is much more needs discussing and doing other than just legislating for change and expecting everyone to comply or pay a fine.

These important changes will financially affect many of those who live and work in and around the affected areas, some considerably and at a time of increasing economic difficulties for everyone, and that needs more action than currently planned.

The key to change from a trade union perspective should always be a just transition. This means once the need for change has been identified and accepted then steps must be taken to ensure those most adversely affected do not suffer any loss now or into the future as a result of that change. In fact the opposite of what historically has all too often been done, change with little or no regard for workers, communities or the environment. There are many, again especially in the current economic climate, who are disproportionately impacted by the pollution but also by the proposed solution.

The focus with ULEZ’s has been unhealthy gas and particulate emissions from older petrol and diesel vehicles by either taxing polluting vehicles coming into the zone, causing people not to enter the zone in a polluting vehicle (or using public or other transport) to avoid that tax or by changing to a vehicle that meets the ULEZ standard and therefore does not have to pay the charge, with the ultimate aim of moving away from fossil fuel burning vehicles to other forms of energy consumption such as electricity.

One of the main problems with this is, for example, that whilst approximately half of Londoners do not own cars or have to for their work, over a couple of million do and very many people come into London from outside to work and they need personal transport to do this. And, whilst the London Mayor’s office has recently launched a further vehicle scrappage assistance scheme to help small businesses to work into the future with less of an impact on the air we breathe it is widely regarded as nowhere near enough to deal with the problem. And, if we were to achieve a massive change to electric vehicles, the infrastructure necessary to keep them going isn’t there or likely to be enough in the future.

TUCAN agrees that encouraging people to use public transport rather than internal combustion engine driven vehicles or cycling or even walking are all very good things but for very many people, especially when it comes to earning a living, these are not always available, safe, reliable or sensible options – many need personal transport and in the main the burden of change is being borne by them – unfairly.

Also, whilst addressing vehicle emissions is an obvious necessity there are other issues such as pollution from planes, trains, many work activities including construction and industry as well as our homes that need equal and urgent attention which is not happening. It also doesn’t address the issue of those who can afford and who choose to pay rather than replace their vehicles – those who will continue to pollute the air because they can!

TUCAN therefore believes the introduction and expansion of initiatives such as ULEZ’s is a vital and necessary thing but they should not be seen as stand-alone problems resolved by standard setting and the imposition of a tax or fine for non-compliance. Rather government (national, regional and local) and employers (either by taxation or direct payments to their employees) have to step up to ensure those who need to change their necessary personal vehicles to cleaner, compliant ones are given every financial assistance to do so to avoid the burden being borne by those who can least afford it. We accept this will initially be costly but will be for everyone’s benefit.

Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion to Outer London will be good for our health; Friends of the Earth Briefing

The mayor has announced expansion of the ULEZ to the whole of Greater London starting in August 2023. This will bring cleaner air to 5 million more people according to the mayor. The existing ULEZ has reduced air pollution in Inner London, and so has reduced the level of illness it caused. Research by Imperial College shows that London’s toxic air leads to 4,000 premature deaths in our city each year1. Over half a million Londoners suffer from chronic asthma, and are more vulnerable to the impacts of toxic air2. Most of these people live in outer London₂. The London boroughs with the highest estimated number of air pollution early deaths a year are Bromley (204), Barnet (201), Croydon (196) and Havering (178)3. It is estimated that the ULEZ expansion  will take 44,000 of the most polluting cars off the road by the end of 2023₄

Every hospital admission caused by toxic air harms the person concerned and their family, but is also a big drain on our overstretched NHS. Research shows that air pollution is particularly harmful to children and can reduce the growth of their lungs by 5%, leading to chronic respiratory problems5. Clean air should be a human right, but for years now our government has failed to bring the UK within legal limits, let alone the World Health Organisation guidelines.

But won’t it hit poorer people and small businesses? 

Less than one in six Outer London cars will have to pay the ULEZ charge. Only the most polluting cars will be charged. The mayor is giving £110 million in scrappage grants to Londoners on low incomes, charities, and small businesses whose vehicles would have to pay the charge. This grant can enable the owner to buy a cleaner vehicle exempt from the charge, or to buy a bicycle or electric cargo bike and have a lot of money left over, or to receive a payment of higher total value including free public transport for two years. The mayor should also invite and assess applications for a scrappage grant and/or a one-year exemption from payment from people whose income is marginally above Universal Credit level, need to travel to provide care for a disabled person/people, and whose ability to use public transport is limited or constrained by the time pressure related to their journey. 

Isn’t it unfair?

Lower income people and many ethnic minorities are least likely to own a car but are more likely to suffer health effects from air pollution. So tackling pollution helps address inequality.

Isn’t it just another tax?

By law the income from the ULEZ can only be spent only on improving transport. To provide a good alternative to driving, the mayor has announced a major expansion of the bus network in Outer London, covering many areas including Harrow, Southall, Havering, Lewisham, Greenwich, and services to Whipps Cross Hospital in East London6. Improving public transport is vital for low-income Londoners, most of whom cannot afford a car. They also tend to live in the areas with the worst air. More cycle paths should be provided. Encouraging people to cycle by making it safe both reduces pollution and improves Londoners’ health.

Isn’t it unpopular?

Most Londoners favour a reduction in vehicle emissions, to reduce the destruction caused by climate breakdown, and to improve air quality. One recent poll shows that Londoners want the zone to be expanded London-wide, with nearly twice as many Londoners supporting the expansion than opposing it7.   Nearly two-thirds of Londoners think that “motorised transport” makes a large or very large contribution to climate change8. Only one in six says they would not consider using public transport instead of driving₈.

What if I have to use a car?

By cutting traffic, the ULEZ expansion will reduce the amount of time wasted sitting in traffic jams, on average 148 hours per driver per year9. This congestion takes £5.1 billion per year out of London’s economy₁₀. People in cars are also affected by air pollution (which can mean more exposure than someone walking or cycling in the same street) so cleaning the air helps us all₁₁. Moreover free-flowing traffic emits less harmful emissions for every mile travelled.

What next?

Friends of the Earth supports the expansion of ULEZ but beyond that we want to see a comprehensive Smart Road User Charging scheme. This would replace all the existing charges (congestion charge and ULEZ) with one system that encourages people to drive less and so does more to reduce congestion, air pollution and climate wrecking emissions. It should take into account how polluting a vehicle is but also what alternatives there are so, for example, it could charge less in an area where there is sparse public transport.

1 https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/new-imperial-study-on-mayors-aq-policies

2 https://www.mylondon.news/news/london-ulez-sadiq-khans-plans-25542582

3https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/london_health_burden_of_current_air_pollution_and_future_health_benefits_of_mayoral_air_quality_policies_january2020.pdf (Table 21)

4 https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/ulez-expansion-greater-london-polluting-cars-mayor-sadiq-khan-b1040941.html

5 https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/clean_air_for_all_londoners_report_-_environment_committee.pdf

6 https://www.london.gov.uk/ultra-low-emission-zone-will-be-expanded-london-wide

7 https://docs.cdn.yougov.com/zh6ic3x5sw/GLA_Results_220725_W.pdf


9 https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/cleanair?tool=qanda   (Consultation brochure)

10 https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-announces-bold-plans-for-a-greener-london

11 https://www.iqair.com/blog/air-quality/in-car-pollution

The truth about Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

The most comprehensive study of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) ever, produced by Possible and the University of Westminster showed that streets within LTNs in London experience substantial, overall falls in traffic with significant changes in street use.

  • Most streets within LTNs see reductions in traffic, improving the experience of walking and cycling. 
  • Two-thirds of them now have vehicle flows below 1000 vehicles a day, compared to only two-fifths before. 
  • Across London the average traffic reduction within LTNs was 46.9%
  • There is also little indication that this traffic is simply displaced onto boundary roads. Average motor traffic counts showed that on boundary roads, traffic changed relatively little – with a less than 1% increase on a typical day.
  • Average decreases in motor traffic on roads within LTNs are almost ten times higher than average increases in motor traffic on boundary roads. This suggests that not only do LTNs have substantial benefits inside their boundaries by creating an overall reduction in traffic, but they can also contribute to wider traffic reduction goals.

But boundary roads are highly likely to still be polluted, unsafe, or difficult to cross or cycle on. Removing LTNs won’t alleviate these issues so it is vital for local authorities to consider other measures that could: including expanding low emission zones, increasing public transport provision and urban greenery etc.

Possible is asking local authorities to use the report’s findings to introduce more LTNs and to challenge misinformation about the direct impacts on boundary roads as well as to call for further measures to address traffic on them.  Use this link to show your local councillors you support LTNs.