The ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) expanded from central London to the boundaries of the North and South Circular roads on Monday 25th October, meaning Disabled people in Camden will now be fined for driving highly polluting vehicles in the borough unless they have disabled tax class registration.
According to Transport for London (TFL), the aim of the ULEZ is to clean up London’s air by encouraging drivers to switch to more environmentally friendly automobiles.
Under the scheme, vehicles that do not meet the zone’s pollution standards attract a daily fine of £12.50 if they are cars, vans or motorbikes and £100 if they are lorries. The penalty for not paying the fine is £160 for cars, vans and motorbikes and £1,000 for lorries and coaches.
Disabled drivers, including Blue Badge holders, do not escape the charges unless their vehicles are registered under the disabled tax class, or disabled passenger tax class, in which case they are exempt until 26th October 2025.
Not-for-profit community transport minibuses will also avoid being penalised until 29th October 2023 in recognition, says TFL, of their role in transporting older and Disabled Londoners.
For some people, these exemptions do not go far enough and the ULEZ charges amount to yet another unfair tax on Disabled people.
Inclusive design expert and wheelchair user Mik Scarlet said: “All over we’re seeing changes in how things are done that make life harder for disabled people, all of which I’d say were illegal, and as the ULEZ is at the minute I think it’s being rolled out in an illegal way too.”
It seems Disabled people are seen as acceptable victims of trying to be greener. I really hope this stops soon because it’s very unfair. (Mik Scarlet, inclusive design expert.)
Mik, who is a long-term Camden resident, added: “I don’t know why this keeps happening as we try to make London a greener healthier city. Everyone trying to make these changes must know the law, but it seems Disabled people are seen as acceptable victims of trying to be greener. I really hope this stops soon because it’s very unfair.”
Responding to the criticism, the TFL spokesperson told CDA the Mayor and TfL had considered the additional impact of the ULEZ expansion on Disabled people and acted appropriately by offering time-limited exemptions.
The scheme also offers grants of £1,000 to £2,000 to help disability benefits claimants to cover the cost of scrapping older, more polluting vehicles.
But the tight eligibility criteria for the grant scheme means lower income workers, including Disabled employees, will be forced to either cop the daily fines or make a transport transition they can ill afford.
Katie Nield, lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, said: “Alongside the ULEZ, local and national governments need to provide the right help and support to make sure that people on lower incomes and small businesses are able to transition to cleaner forms of transport.”
Although some Disabled people in Camden and elsewhere will remain unhappy about the ULEZ emission charges, it seems clear the scheme is helping to clean the capital’s toxic air and reduce the likelihood that Londoners will develop pollution-related health problems.
TFL’s website says the ULEZ has been effective at persuading people to drive cleaner vehicles and the announcement of its expansion has prompted large numbers of people to abandon older vehicles, especially diesel ones.
Eighty per cent of automobiles in the zone now meet the ULEZ standards compared to only 39% in February 2017, when plans for the larger area were first announced.
A TFL spokesperson said: “In the first 10 months of the central London scheme (before the pandemic), the ULEZ had already delivered significant air quality benefits, including contributing to a 44 per cent reduction in harmful roadside Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) in the zone and helping to reduce the number of state schools in areas exceeding the legal limits for NO2 by 97 per cent.”
Despite the improvements, London’s air remains dangerously toxic.
By 2050, estimates TFL, the newly expanded ULEZ will have prevented almost 300,000 people from acquiring air-quality related diseases and avoided 1 million hospital admissions across London, saving the NHS and social care system almost £5 billion.
Despite the improvements, London’s air remains dangerously toxic, with TFL admitting that 99 per cent of London still exceeds the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended limits for a toxin called PM2.5, thought to be the air pollutant which has the greatest impact on human health.
The majority of people living in London, are still living in areas where pollution levels are dangerously high. (Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.)
Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “Whilst this (the ULEZ expansion) is a huge step in the right direction, we mustn’t be complacent against this invisible threat. The fact of the matter remains that the majority of people living in London, are still living in areas where pollution levels are dangerously high. We therefore look forward to working with the Mayor to ensure ULEZ and other pollution reduction schemes go further and are delivered faster in order to improve the quality of air across the entire capital.”
Furthermore, the largest number of pollution-related deaths in London have occurred in outer London boroughs that lie beyond the new ULEZ’s boundaries, suggesting the zone does not extend far enough.
Katie Nield said: “The next step for the Mayor now is to ensure the ULEZ works for the whole of Greater London so it protects people’s health in all corners of the capital, while securing funds to support those who need it. Children from Croydon to Brent should be able to breathe the same cleaner air regardless of where they live. This is an environmental justice issue.”
Many would argue that another environmental justice issue is climate change, which is significantly aggravated by the transport sector, especially private vehicles. Although driving newer vehicles can help cut greenhouse gas emissions. there is no such thing as a truly green car, a fact that has prompted some organisations and academics to call for people to avoid using cars wherever possible.
We support cleaner vehicles but it would be so much better if fewer people used their cars altogether and cycled, wheeled or walked instead. (James Cleeton, London interim director of Sustrans,)
James Cleeton, London interim director of Sustrans, a walking and cycling charity, said: “We support cleaner vehicles but it would be so much better if fewer people used their cars altogether and cycled, wheeled or walked instead. Walking and wheeling is better for our health and wellbeing and our air quality and it helps us towards achieving net zero and all the benefits that brings to the global climate.”
Camden has seen a strong push to reduce car dominance since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the council promoting active travel through cycle lane improvements, greening projects and low traffic neighbourhoods.
Camden Disability Action’s community reporters have been largely supportive of these moves while drawing attention to the need make sure they do not unfairly disadvantage Disabled people. Among the adaptations the reporters have asked for are reduced street clutter, smoother pavements and wider cycle lanes, all of which would make it easier for people with mobility or sensory impairments to wheel or walk short distances.