Low Emission Zone
Iintroduced in February 2008, the Low Emission Zone is the second road charging scheme to be introduced by Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London, following the Congestion Charge in February 2002.
While the CC was simply intended to restrict the number of private vehicles within a certain area, the LEZ claims to reduce vehicle emissions across the Greater London area, producing a noticeable difference to air quality. Its opponents claim it will damage business and that the improvement in air quality would happen without the £130m scheme.
- What is it?
- Who does it affect?
- Where and when does it operate?
- How do I pay?
- How do I become exempt?
- What happens if I don't pay?
What is it?
The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) is a scheme introduced in February 2008 to encourage the use of less polluting vehicles and penalise the heaviest polluters. It operates on almost all roads within the Greater London Authority's boundaries.
Its stated aim is to improve air quality in the city. Statistics produced by the Greater London Authority (GLA) show that, in a city that is already subject to Clean Air regulations on industrial and residential buildings, the single biggest source of air pollution (and particularly those substances that cause health problems such as asthma) is road traffic. The LEZ tackles this problem by creating a financial incentive for owners and operators of commercial vehicles to use cleaner, less polluting engines.
Those opposed to the scheme tend to see it as another measure to make road transport more difficult and to extract more money from the road haulage sector. It follows the Congestion Charge, itself a controversial scheme for similar reasons, and was introduced by Ken Livingstone, who has a long-standing reputation for disliking private motor traffic.
Weighing heavily against the scheme is the argument that most heavy goods vehicles operating in London are already fitted with engines clean enough to be exempt from the charge, and the service life of such vehicles is sufficiently short that air quality improvements would probably happen on a similar timescale without the influence of the LEZ.
However, it seems likely that the LEZ will be revised periodically to demand higher and higher standards of engine efficiency, in order to accelerate improvements in air quality and reductions in emissions. It remains to be seen whether the LEZ will cause this ongoing change to take place at a faster rate than if it were left to market forces alone.
London isn't alone in implementing a Low Emission Zone at this time: several are already in operation across Europe and more are planned as part of a Europe-wide scheme. The website lowemissionzones.eu has details on each of them.
Who does it affect?
The LEZ applies to lorries, buses and coaches, whether operated by a company or an individual. It does not apply to cars or motorbikes. Historic vehicles and those mostly used off-road (such as farm machinery or construction vehicles) are exempt.
Over time, the regulations become more strict. Vehicles that meet or exceed the LEZ standard are exempt from the charge. This table shows the proposed limits, correct at February 2008.
Vehicle type Start date Emissions standard Large lorries
Heavy diesel-engine vehicles over 12 tonnes gross weight.
4 Feb 2008 Euro III standard 2 Jan 2012 Euro IV standard Small lorries, buses and coaches
Heavy diesel-engine vehicles between 3.5 and 12 tonnes gross weight, and diesel-engine passenger vehicles with more than 8 seats and over 5 tonnes gross weight. Does not include regular TfL bus services.
7 Jul 2008 Euro III standard 3 Jan 2012 Euro IV standard Large vans and minibuses
Diesel-engine vehicles between 1.205 and 3.5 tonnes gross weight, and any other diesel-engine passenger vehicles with more than 8 seats. Does not include regular TfL bus services.
4 Oct 2010 Euro III standard
All new vehicles registered with the DVLA on or after 1 October 2001 are assumed to meet Euro III standard and are automatically exempt from the charge.
Where and when does it operate?
The LEZ covers almost all the area governed by the Greater London Authority and, unlike the Congestion Charge, is in operation at all times, including overnight and on public holidays. On each approach road to London, the zone begins at a point where there is an opportunity to avoid entering the zone. As a rough guide, virtually the whole of the Greater London urban area is within the LEZ.
The M4 east of junction 3 and the M1 south of London Gateway (Scratchwood) Services are both included in the zone, but the M11 and M25 are both completely exempt even where they enter the zone boundaries. In the case of the M11, a lack of places to U-turn mean the motorway is exempt, and a short section of the A406 North Circular Road can be used on either side of the M11's terminus to turn vehicles around without entering the LEZ.
Clear signs have been placed on all approach roads, warning of the LEZ in advance, marking the boundary, and indicating escape routes. Reminder signs are sporadically placed on main roads within the zone (shown at the top of the page).
How do I pay?
If a vehicle does not meet the standards laid out above, it must pay the daily charge to enter the LEZ. The charge applies for each day, midnight to midnight, so a vehicle that is inside the zone overnight is liable to pay the charge twice. The charges are detailed below (correct at February 2008).
Class of vehicle Daily charge Large and small lorries, buses and coaches £200 Large vans and minibuses £100
Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras monitor major entry points and are also placed at intervals within the zone. Registration numbers are read by the cameras and checked against the DVLA database. Owners of vehicles that do not meet the LEZ standard who have not paid the charge by midnight on the following business day are liable to receive a penalty notice.
Because of the vast number of entry points (around 600), cameras are only placed on major roads, and therefore short trips into the edges of the zone are likely to go undetected. To combat this possibility, mobile cameras are also in operation, but the LEZ is large enough that it relies partly on trust.
The charge can be paid direct to Transport for London through the LEZ payment website, by telephone on 0845 607 0009 (or +44 207 310 8998 from outside the UK)*, or by post, using a special form which must be received 10 days in advance of travelling within the LEZ.
How do I become exempt?
If a vehicle does not comply to the Euro III standard (or, from 2012, the Euro IV standard) it is possible to replace or modify the engine and then have the vehicle inspected by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA). Once it has been certified as clean, it will become exempt.
Again, the TfL website has full details on vehicle operators' options to comply.
What happens if I don't pay?
On the first occasion that a vehicle enters the LEZ without paying the charge, TfL will issue a warning letter. There is then a grace period of 28 days in which to pay the charge, make and register the vehicle as compliant or challenge the letter. On entering the zone on further occasions a penalty charge notice. Fines run up to a maximum of £1,500 and TfL has the authority to clamp persistent offenders.
TfL also claims to thoroughly follow up all cases involving vehicles from outside the UK. However, press reports of its record in chasing Congestion Charge fines on foreign vehicles suggest that its success rate for this may not be very high.
Vehicle owners are entitled to challenge a penalty charge notice through a formal procedure and an appeal process is available if TfL's response to a challenge is unsatisfactory.
This is not the official LEZ website.
For up-to-date information, and to make enquiries about the scheme, visit Transport for London.
* Details correct as at February 2008.
With thanks to Mark Woolley for information on this page.