Business concern over ULEZ charges, survey shows

RAC survey finds 23% of businesses would prefer to pay LEZ charge than upgrade vehicle fleet

Almost a quarter (23%) of UK firms would prefer to pay a charge than invest in upgraded fleets to operate in the government’s proposed ‘clean air zones’, according to research by the motoring services firm RAC’s business division.

Low emission zone

The ULEZ will come into force in London from 2020

RAC Business found that a “significant number” of UK firms expect to be punished financially by the introduction of zonal air pollution schemes, such as the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ), which is set to be introduced progressively in London from 2018, with cars and light commercial vehicles affected from 2020.

A survey of 500 UK businesses showed that 27% of firms run fleets with vehicles that already comply with the standards required by London’s ULEZ. However, a further 23% say it will cost less to accept a charge each time they drive into the zone than it would to upgrade their vehicles.

London Assembly Member Stephen Knight called the findings “very worrying”, but added that fleet operators would be “very foolish indeed to think they can ignore the need to clean up their fleet by 2020”.

The findings follow the end of the government’s consultation last week (November 6) on its UK-wide draft plans for meeting EU nitrogen dioxide limits (see story).

The draft plans include proposals to support local authorities in introducing clean air zones, which would see drivers having to meet certain NOx emission standards or face a “charge or other restriction appropriate to the type of vehicle” in order to drive in the zone — similar to how the London ULEZ will operate.


According to RAC Business, drivers in vehicles subject to low emission or clean air zone charges could be paying £12.50 for cars and up to £100 for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

However, 8.5% of businesses responding to the RAC research said they could not afford to upgrade their vehicles in order to avoid the charges, while 5% said they will have to operate their business outside of the ULEZ or areas affected by similar schemes elsewhere.

In addition, one in five businesses said they would expect their leasing firms to supply greener vehicles that already comply with the new regulations, which for vans and lorries will be the Euro 6 standard. And, 15% said they would invest in new technology such as electric and hybrid vehicles.

RAC Business said the research suggested there is “still a lot of work to be done” to ensure businesses are ready for the ULEZ in London and other possible future zones elsewhere.

Corporate sales director at RAC Business, Jenny Powley, said: “It is a concern that there are a large proportion of businesses prepared to pay the charges instead of looking at alternative vehicles. This is presumably because they think it will be more cost-effective to keep their old vehicles and pay the charges that they will be subject to, rather than invest in new compliant vehicles.

“But in fact a lorry driving into central London once a week would cost a business an extra £5,200 a year and a car making a daily trip would cost the business, or individual, an extra £3,000 per year in charges.

“It’s a false economy to think you might save money by not ensuring your fleet is ready, but we can see that smaller businesses in particular will have concerns about the cost implication. That is why as an industry we need to be looking at how this transition is made without some firms feeling like they are being penalised unfairly.”

Lib Dem London Assembly Member Mr Knight said: “If the proposed daily charges don’t prove a sufficient deterrent to remove these vehicles from the zone, then it is of course very easy for a future Mayor to increase the charges to a level that does provide that deterrent. Fleet operators would therefore be very foolish indeed to think they can ignore the need to clean up their fleet by 2020.

“It’s also vital that clear and consistent information about emission standards is given to firms now — well ahead of the introduction of the ULEZ in 2020. We need the Mayor to carry out a targeted information campaign urgently.”


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