The Ultra Low Emission Zone, known as ULEZ, replaced the T-Charge on 8 April of this year. In operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, the project is now over a month in.

The aim of the ULEZ was to try and reduce both traffic and congestion in the city of London. It utilises sophisticated technology to not just identify the number plate but also the type of vehicle in question. The first phase of the project is in operation now, with a planned larger Low Emission Zone, or LEZ, being rolled out for phase two in October next year. The final phase of the project will extend the ULEZ for all vehicles in inner London boroughs with the boundary being the North and South Circular.

While the ULEZ might be seen as a necessary step to help reduce both the traffic and pollution in the city, it was not met with universal approval. But the real acid test will be to see how it is working, in terms of whether it’s reducing emissions or raising capital for the city to spend on other measures.

The good news is that after a month, the figures show that the number of polluting cars and vans in the city has dropped. According to a report in the Guardian, on average there were 9,400 fewer such vehicles entering London each day in April when compared with March. There were 36,000 fewer than in February 2017 when the plans for the ULEZ were announced.

Sadiq Khan

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, said that this kind of ‘bold action reaps rewards’ and said that the changes were vital. And with nearly three quarters of vehicles (74%) complying with pollution limits in the zone in April compared to 61% the month before, it is hard to argue with his assessment.

Of course, one month is not sufficient to gain a really clear picture of how the ULEZ is working in the long term. But even these early improvements have been heralded by health campaigners such as the British Heart Foundation. Speaking for the Foundation, John Maingay said, ‘While this news is encouraging, it is now important that the progress in reducing the number of heavily polluting vehicles on the road doesn’t stall. Instead we need to accelerate progress by adopting the World Health Organization’s stringent guideline limits for air pollutants into UK law, prompting comprehensive, joined-up action at local and national level.’

Impact on the haulage industry

For drivers forced to pay this new charge, the scheme has obviously been less of an all-round success. Whilst everyone will agree that better health and living conditions is a worthy and noble cause, the financial implications for those affected can’t be overlooked. However, there is no doubt that these kind of charges are here to stay and zones look set to grow over the coming years. This is something the haulage industry in particular has to face and try to overcome.

The future of the heavy goods vehicle industry must adapt to the changing conditions, and it can do this in a number of ways. Some contractors and companies are already adding electric and hybrid vehicles to their fleet. These are exempt from the charges of the ULEZ.

Of course, moving over to a new fleet of vehicles is a big investment, but it’s one that can pay dividends in the future. As well as being cleaner, there are significant savings in running costs as well as benefits in terms of reliability. However, before making any big investments, it’s worth thinking about any future ULEZ or other charges that may be coming down the line. Future-proofing your fleet against these kinds of charges is now an essential consideration for any haulage firm.

The ULEZ has undoubtedly started to meet its goals within the first month and looks set to continue to have a positive impact. For hauliers, this may cause a mixed reaction but there is little doubt that using this energy to drive positive change in the industry is the right way to react.


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