London’s Low Emission Zone and Ultra Low Emission Zone have resulted in fewer vehicles on the road and improved air quality.
More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Urban areas can be very polluting due to fuel oils and natural gases that heat homes, by-products of manufacturing and power generation, and vehicle emissions, to name a few. In London, England, busy roads produce almost 50% of its air pollution. The city has found that over 500 000 Londoners live with asthma due to poor air quality and are more vulnerable to the impact of toxic air. Moreover, air pollution contributes to the premature death of thousands of Londoners annually.
To improve air quality, London has transitioned to zero-emission buses and improved their bike path network. In 2008 the city launched the Low Emission Zone, which would charge people to drive certain heavy-goods vehicles, such as buses and trucks,s into the city centre. In 2019, the city launched the Ultra Low Emission Zone, the world’s most stringent low-emission zone and 18 times its original size.
The zone covers the areas within London’s North and South Circular roads. This zone charges personal vehicles, including all cars and motorcycles, that do not follow the city’s emission standards and are over a certain age. People driving these vehicles must pay $15 daily to enter central London. The exceptions to paying the fee are vehicles that meet specific Euro standards, which reduce harmful pollutants from entering the air. The city plans to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone by summer 2023 into London’s suburbs.
By introducing these low-emission zones, the city has seen a significant change in air pollutant emissions and traffic and vehicle compliance. In October 2022, there were 47,000 fewer vehicles in the zone on an average day which is a reduction of 5%. There was also a 60 percent reduction in non-compliant vehicles (old and polluting) detected in the zone since the expansion came into operation, an average reduction of 74,000 polluting vehicles per day. They’ve also seen reduced emissions caused by the heavy vehicle fleet because of the Low Emission Zone.
The air in these zones has been substantially cleaner. Nitrogen dioxide concentrations were estimated to be 21 percent lower than they would have been without the emission zones. The boundary roads have also benefited from cleaner air. All the air quality monitoring sites have also recorded large reductions in nitrogen dioxide concentrations compared to predictions made if the Ultra Low Emission Zone didn’t exist. This means people are not driving on the boundary roads to avoid paying a fee.
This is a step in the right direction for cities to reduce their emissions. Additionally, cities must continue to improve sustainable modes of transportation and accessible public transport to improve air quality and the health of the environment of urban dwellers.