Almost 1,000 people a year in London are hospitalised with asthma caused by pollution
London is preparing to enforce world-leading vehicle pollution restrictions from Monday as the capital attempts to clean up the toxic air blamed for thousands of premature deaths.
The ultra-low emission zone, or Ulez, will launch at one minute past midnight, imposing a 12.50-a-day charge to drive into central London in all but the cleanest cars and vans.
The move is expected to reduce road transport emissions by around 45%. The mayor, Sadiq Khan, unveiled research showing that almost 1,000 people a year in the city were hospitalised with asthma caused by pollution.
The charge will be levied inside Londons congestion charge zone around the clock, and motorists driving polluting cars during the daytime will have to pay both charges, meaning it will cost 24 to take such vehicles into central London between 7am and 6pm.
It will apply to drivers of diesel cars and vans whose engines are not certified to the latest Euro 6 standard, mandated from 2015, as well as most petrol cars more than 14 years old. Non-compliant buses, coaches and lorries will have to pay 100.
The charge will be enforced using number-plate recognition and the DVLA database, which includes every vehicles emission standards.
City Hall said the scheme would improve air quality throughout the city by limiting journeys by polluting vehicles and encouraging drivers to switch to cleaner modes of transport.
A bigger improvement but a potential shock to London residents owning the most polluting cars could come in October 2021, when the Ulez is due to be extended to all areas inside the North and South Circular roads. That enlargement will bring around 640,000 vehicles into the zone, around 135,000 of which will be liable for the charge.
Other cities including Birmingham and Leeds have said they will introduce clean air zones in 2020, and Manchester plans to follow suit.
Shirley Rodrigues, Londons deputy mayor for the environment, said air pollution was a social justice issue. The poorest are least likely to own a car but most likely to live in an area of high pollution, she said.
Currently more than 2 million people in London including more than 400,000 children live in areas where the air quality breaks legal limits for nitrogen dioxide.
City Hall forecasts that the measures will bring almost all of London excluding major roads and the area around Heathrow well within European legal air limits by 2025, and that no London primary and secondary schools will be in areas of toxic pollution. At present, air quality breaches legal limits at 451 schools.
A study by Kings College London and Imperial College London found that each day on average four Londoners, including one child under 14, were hospitalised for breathing difficulties owing to air pollution. Researchers estimated that around one in 10 of London childrens asthma admissions were directly due to air quality.
Khan said: As someone who developed adult-onset asthma over the last few years, I know from personal experience that Londons toxic air is damaging peoples health.
Dr Penny Woods, the chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said the figures were not surprising, and toxic air put everyone at risk of lung cancer and respiratory disease. Its the biggest environmental threat to human health, yet because its invisible its often ignored, she said.
The launch of the Ulez has been widely welcomed by both business and environmental groups, although some urged London and the government to go further and faster by promoting zero-emission vehicles or car-sharing schemes. Independent testing of Euro 6 diesel vehicles has shown that many models continue to breach emissions targets.
The CBI said it was a positive step, but smaller firms could struggle with the charge. The Road Haulage Association however branded the scheme simplistic and anti-motorist, and said some operators would stop servicing the capital.
A 23m scrappage scheme to help small businesses and charities operating older vans and minibuses to upgrade their vehicles was launched only in February. Alex Williams, Transport for Londons director of city planning, said there could be leeway for charities attempting to comply.
Fines will be issued from launch day for drivers who fail to pay the charge. TfL said 90% of London drivers were aware of the scheme, after a publicity blitz including direct mailouts, and 3.2 million people had used its vehicle checker.
Williams said the Ulez was not intended to raise revenue for TfL, whose budget has been savaged by the ending of government grants, delays to Crossrail and stalling passenger figures.
Around 100,000 vehicles enter the zone daily, and Williams said that with increasing numbers of motorists switching to cleaner engines, four in five would be compliant and not liable to the charge. Disabled badge holders will be have a sunset period under which they will be exempt until 26 October 2025, if they fall within the disabled or disabled passenger vehicles tax class.
TfL predicts the charge will cut traffic by 5% in central London. Drivers of Uber and other private hire cars, whose numbers in London have swelled by thousands in recent years, will be liable to pay the charge, but black cabs will remain a notable exception. Most of the 23,000 current licensed vehicles run on diesel, but all new taxis must be zero-emission-capable petrol-electric hybrids.
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