Shortly after the world’s first 24-hour ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) came into operation in London the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, revealed it has already reduced harmful pollution levels.
The Mayor’s office reported that concentrations of roadside N02 have been reduced in the zone by 20% and the scheme, which started on 8 April, is predicted to reduce it by 45% eventually.
Some 75% of all TfL buses, or 6,950 buses, now meet or exceed the emission standard. But by October 2020 all 9,200 of the TfL fleet will ‘go green’ and meet the standard.
Currently more than two million Londoners live in areas exceeding legal limits for N02 – 400,000 of them under the age of 18. Had the Mayor not acted, according to King’s College Research, the capital would not be compliant with legal limits for 193 years. With ULEZ this has been cut to six.
Khan said: “Our toxic air is an invisible killer responsible for one of the biggest national health emergencies of our generation. I simply refuse to be yet another politician who ignores it.”
He added: "This is also about social justice - people in the most deprived parts of London, who are least likely to own a car, suffer the worst effects of harmful air pollution. I will not stand by and watch children grow up with under-developed lungs in our city."
Air pollution costs the capital up to £3.7bn each year, and £20bn cost to the entire country. As part of preparation for ULEZ, a £10 ‘T-Charge’ for polluting vehicles was introduced at the end of 2017.
This ‘stepping stone’ to the ULEZ charge has helped reduce the total number of vehicles in the zone by 11,000. Since February 2017 there has been a 55% increase in the number of compliant vehicles in the central London ULEZ zone.
But this is not the end of the story. Caroline Russell, chair of the London Assembly environment committee, said: "Poor air quality is having a very real and serious effect on the health and everyday lives of Londoners.
“Far-reaching action is needed. We have argued that the expansion should go faster and further and today's launch is a welcome first step."
Asthma UK director of research and policy Dr Samantha Walker welcomed the news but added: “Air pollution isn't just happening in London - it needs to be tackled across the UK. The Government must commit to targets that reduce toxic air in the UK to the legal levels recommended by the World Health Organisation, so that everyone with asthma can breathe clean air."
Some have raised concerns about the impact of the charge on poorer, vulnerable families who rely on their cars and also on business. However, the Mayor has launched a £48m scrappage scheme for microbusinesses and charities, and people on low incomes.
The daily charge for lorries, buses and coaches is £100, and £12.50 for cars, vans and motorbikes – for vehicles who do not reach the emissions standards. Petrol vehicles need to meet Euro 4, and diesel vehicles need to meet Euro 6 standards.