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London ULEZ: exclusive interview with TfL's Alex Williams

London ULEZ: exclusive interview with TfL’s Alex Williams

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) came into effect on 8 April 2019. Years in the making, the zone is a vital part of Transport for London’s commitment to driving down pollution and tackling toxic air.

Under the new scheme in central London, vehicles that do not comply with the standard will incur daily charges; the hope is that this will change behaviours, not only decreasing pollution, but reducing congestion and improving public health.

During the first month, 74% of vehicles in the zone were compliant with the emissions standard, highlighting the scheme’s early success.

Transport Britain spoke to Alex Williams, Director of City Planning at TfL, about ULEZ, the early impact made, and wider transport strategy. The full interview will appear in issue 9 of Transport Britain.

After the first month of the new ULEZ in London, how would you assess its success?

It’s still very early days and so we have to be cautious about whether what we’re seeing is a long term trend or not.

In terms of key statistics, when the Mayor announced the scheme in 2017, under 40% of the vehicles were compliant with the standard. Since February 2017, we’ve had a marketing campaign to make people aware of the ULEZ scheme, and it finally came into effect on 8 April.

What we’re seeing is that the compliance figure has shot up to over 70% as people have shifted to cleaner vehicles to comply with the scheme.

That is great news; our target is to get to 80% by the end of the first year, and we are probably ahead of schedule. There’s a good chance we’ll exceed that target.

It’s only the first month in but at the moment it’s going very well.

The other thing to bear in mind is the systems are all working well, the cameras are working as expected, the back-up systems can cope. People are paying their fines, so it’s all going well.

How do you work alongside fleet operators of HGVs to ensure compliance is met?

We work closely with a number of trade bodies, but in many ways, we shouldn’t limit our engagement to just through those organisations.

We’ve had a lot of direct engagement with fleet managers; in the run up to the start of the ULEZ scheme, we put in about 6,000 calls to fleet managers of fleets that were known to be operating in London, to remind them that the scheme would be starting and what they’d need to do to comply.

In addition to that, any vehicle that was seen in the zone, and non-compliant in the six months before implementation, would have received a letter from the DVLA letting them know about the arrival of the scheme and the need to adapt.

That marketing campaign wasn’t about raising revenue – it was about making people aware of the zone and to comply with the standard.

The best area of compliance has been HGVs because the people managing those fleets have deployed the vehicles in a way to avoid paying the charge – they’ve put the cleanest vehicles in the central London area, where the air quality is worse. That direct engagement with fleet managers has been very important in driving that level of compliance well above what we expected.

What benefits does this bring to people of London?

Our modelling indicated that there will probably be a 5% reduction in vehicles coming into the central London area. We’re tracking that and it actually might be more than that when we get to the end of the first year.

Whilst it’s focused on improving air quality, there will be other impacts of the scheme, and one of these is less traffic coming into the zone.

It also means considerable health benefits for Londoners as we predict a 20 per cent reduction in NOx emissions London-wide in 2020 and in inner London, there will be a 30 per cent reduction in NOx in 2021.

In essence, what this means is that fifty per cent fewer people in London will be living in areas exceeding the legal limits for NO2 concentrations in 2020 and 77 per cent fewer in 2021.

Do you feel the threat of fines drive down emissions, or are there other incentives?

With HGVs, the fines are so large that it does change behaviour.

The area where the charges are not high enough to change behaviour is with vans. They are charged £12.50 a day and that may not be enough to persuade people to switch to cleaner vans.

To help with this, the Mayor announced a £23 million fund called Van Scrappage in December. That is targeted at SMEs and charities, and is about enabling them to shift from older, dirty vans to cleaner vans that meet the Euro IV petrol or Euro VI standard, or electric vehicles.

That came into operation in February and we’ve had several hundred applications thus far, and we’re trying to promote that to get more people to take up that fund, enabling them to try and move towards cleaner vehicles.

It underpins the message that we don’t want people to pay fines; we want people to shift to cleaner vehicles so that they don’t have to pay.

The full interview will be in the next issue of Transport Britain.

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