In the early 2000’s, it was determined that London had the worst air quality amongst European cities. To combat pollution in the Greater London region, the greatest offenders (large vehicles) were targeted. Announced in 2007, and implemented in 2008, the Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) covers all roads in Greater London, including Heathrow Airport. Owners of non compliant rigid vehicles, which do not meet certain European Emissions Standards, must pay a charge for entering the zone. Research has shown this strategy to be effective. According to Richard B. Ellison, Stephen Greaves, and David A. Hensher’s report, “Five years of London’s low emission zone: Effects on vehicle fleet composition and air quality,” the number of pre-Euro III rigid vehicles dropped from 51.4% (UK) in 2006 to 29.8% (UK) and 19.4% (London) in 2011.

The LEZ caused the number of non compliant vehicles to drop from 47.4% to 31.9% in London during its first year (Ellison, Greaves, and Hensher). An additional 20% of pre-Euro III vehicles were replaced with low emissions cars. Another result of the LEZ is a continual shift from large vehicles to small cars entering the zone (as they are not impacted). To keep pollution levels down, a strategy to tackle non rigid vehicles was needed. This challenge was solved with 2017’s T-Charge in the Congestion Charge zone, which mainly impacted pre 2006 petrol and diesel cars. As a result, drivers of non passenger cars below Euro IV entering the Congestion Charge zone are required to pay an additional £10. During peak travel times, this additional charge increases the total Congestion Charge zone cost from from £11.50 to £21.50. As a follow up to the T-Charge, the Ultra Low Emission Zone is slated to be introduced in 2019 (Transport for London).

Here is a map of the existing Congestion Charge zone within the current Low Emissions zone:

Ultra Low Emission Zone

Launching in Central London on 8 April 2019, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) replaces the current T-Charge in the Congestion Charge zone. Drivers not meeting ULEZ standards will have to pay two fees for passing through Central London during 7AM and 6:00PM – the Congestion Charge and increased £12.50 ULEZ charge (£24 total). This is so long as their car meets Low Emission Zone requirements. Like the T-Charge, the ULEZ will be in effect 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The ULEZ impacts cars, motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles, quadricycles, small vans, large vans, 4×4 light utility vehicles, among heavy vehicles. It is also worth pointing out that diesel cars must be Euro VI compliant under the new scheme. ULEZ standards are as follows:

  • Euro III – Motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles, quadricycles
  • Euro IV – Petrol cars, vans, minibuses, and other specialist vehicles
  • Euro VI – Diesel cars, vans, minibuses, and other specialist vehicles
  • Euro VI – Lorries, buses, coaches, and other specialist heavy vehicles

    You can see if your car complies, here.

    The ULEZ is intended to cover an area 18 times larger than its initial Central London zone by 2021. This expansion sets the limits to the North and South Circular boundary within inner London. It is estimated 100,000 cars, 35,000 vans, and 3,000 lorries might be affected by the ULEZ each day. The goal is create a cleaner environment for the citizens of Greater London. “Expanding the ULEZ beyond Central London in combination with the new standards for heavy vehicles across the capital is expected to reduce pollution to the extent that 100,000 Londoners will no longer live in areas exceeding legal air quality limits by 2021.” – The Independent

    Below, you can see a comparison between 2008 and 2015, as a result of the existing Low Emission Zone:

    European Union “Euro” emissions standards (IV – VI)

    In an effort to reduce noxious gases, European Emissions Standards were introduced in 1992 with Euro I. To bring cars up to code, it was common to instal catalytic converters to reduce tailpipe emissions. Today, cars come equipped with a fuel injection system, replacing carburetors, making them compliant with European Union emissions standards. Currently set at Euro VI, regulations become incrementally stricter over time to reduce car pollution. So drivers can catch up, there is often lag time for local municipalities to enforce new standards. However, as diesel cars tend to be scrutinised much more than their petrol counterparts, they are usually first to be hit first with emission regulations. Read more in the RAC guide to European Union “Euro” emissions standards.

    Even if you purchased your car before 1 September 2015, your car should meet Euro VI standards. Introduced in 2006, most petrol cars registered after 1 January of that year are still good to drive in London and the UK. However, as mentioned, diesel car owners should have their car inspected before driving through major European cities, like London. In addition to receiving fines for entering low emissions zones, a non-compliant diesel car could result in a MOT failure.

    “Older diesel cars that produce higher levels of NOx and particulate matter are starting to come under fire from a number of environmental groups. Some have blamed the UK Government for enticing consumers into diesel cars, which are considered to be more environmentally harmful, with road tax and company car tax structures that benefit low CO2 emissions.” – Auto Express

    These measures are in preparation for when all petrol and diesel cars are slated to be banned by the UK government (by 2040).

    Post-Brexit changes

    Leaving the European Union means possibly ditching European Emissions Standards. However, Britain’s Climate Change act is stricter than EU standards, potentially raising emissions regulations. As of now, the UK’s goals are keeping with the original target of reducing greenhouse gases by 90% of levels reported in 1990. Since the UK participated in developing EU-level policies, it is heavily invested in retaining and growing the related action plans. Hopefully, the UK keeps with the European Emissions Standards as to not further confuse drivers with a different system. Flexerent explains more here.


    As London, and other major cities, work to combat high-emissions vehicles, it is apparent there is a strong push for drivers to invest in electric cars. If you are not ready to make the shift, it is important to pay attention to changes with regulatory standards, especially regarding stricter “Euro” emissions ratings. The road to a petrol and diesel free 2040 will only continue to become more complicated for non-compliant drivers. To avoid unnecessary charges whilst driving through London, always consult the latest information released via the Transport for London website – they provide useful portals to check your car’s registration information. Here’s to a cleaner, brighter, future in London, and across the world.

    Reports sourced

    Ellison, Richard B., Stephen P. Greaves, and David A. Hensher. “Five Years of London’s Low Emission Zone: Effects on Vehiclefleet Composition and Air Quality.” Transportation Research Part D 23 (August 2013): 25-33.

    Ezeah, Chukwunonye, Keiron Finney, and Chukwunonso Nnajide. “ JMESTN42350921 1860 A Critical Review Of The Effectiveness Of Low Emission Zones (LEZ) As A Strategy For The Management Of Air Quality In Major European Cities.” Journal of Multidisciplinary Engineering Science and Technology (JMEST) 2, no. 7 (July 2015): 1860-868.