Source: Driver Trainer

Confusion and frustration: UK motorists struggle to navigate inner-city clean air zones

Signs indicating Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) on a street in London, UK.

Inner-city clean air zones, such as London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), are making motorists feel ‘suffocated’ due to the fact that they are struggling to understand the rules, according to a new study.

The Euro emission standard for their own car is unknown to more than one in five drivers, despite compliance in most of the 13 zones across the country defined by this measure of a vehicle’s pollution levels.

YouGov polled 3,000 UK-based drivers and found that only 56 percent knew what the ULEZ was, while less than one in five understood the rules for Oxford’s more stringent Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ).

On behalf of car management app Caura, the survey was conducted the week preceding the expansion of London’s ULEZ on August 29 by Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Yet only 56% of respondents stated they were aware of the conditions for a car to enter the ULEZ for free, despite the emissions-related charge zone’s perimeter expanding four times its prior area to cover all 32 London boroughs.

This is true even though people who don’t meet the requirements must pay £12.50 per day to drive in the zone.

Since the ULEZ was first implemented in 2019 and a slew of other clean air zones have since been established in other significant towns and cities, Euro emission requirements frequently determine whether or not a driver must pay to enter.

Petrol vehicles must meet at least Euro 4 requirements for the ULEZ and Birmingham CAZ, while diesel vehicles must adhere to the most recent Euro 6 emissions regulations.

Yet 81 percent of the 3,000 drivers said they had no clue which Euro standard their car meets.

Just 19 percent of drivers polled outside the city knew the rules for driving into Oxford ZEZ, which has fees for all but non-electric vehicles, including hybrids, with different prices depending on how green the car is.

In addition, just 29 percent of those surveyed were aware of the emissions standards for operating a vehicle in a CAZ, of which there are presently seven: Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Gateshead, and Sheffield. Not all of these CAZs collect fees for the use of passenger vehicles, though.

Scotland’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ) has also recently been introduced in Glasgow and will arrive in Aberdeen, Dundee, and Edinburgh in 2024.

Regarding who gets stung, it is again extremely different from other zones in Britain.

Although it utilises the same emission standards as ULEZ, non-compliant car owners must pay a fine upon entry rather than incur daily fees.

All non-compliant vehicles are subject to a £60 initial penalty charge, which is reduced by 50 percent if paid within a fortnight.

However, a fee will apply if the same LEZ is violated again during a 90-day period. With each violation of the rules, the penalty will double.

The maximum daily penalty charge for car and van drivers was capped at an eye-watering £480.

Only after 90 days of last breaching the rules is the surcharge rate reset to £60.

After the “chaos that ensured” at the end of August when the ULEZ was expanded and with additional councils planning to adopt clean air zone models in the future, Caura thinks the disparate laws and requirements around all the different zones are a major concern moving forward.

It also comes in the wake of Bath introducing ULEZ-style rules with variable pricing to use council-run car parks last week.

Although Bath’s CAZ is based on the Euro emission level, the fee to use parking in the city centre is determined by vehicle excise duty bands, which just adds to the confusion.

Caura thinks more has to be done in terms of education and standardisation of standards because certain authorities are failing to notify drivers about emission-related zones and laws.

For instance, when the ULEZ grew to include London Heathrow, the busiest airport in the UK, it was unable to access the Transport for London website due to server issues and long wait times to reach the homepage.

However, as the YouGov poll demonstrates, this is due to the fact that drivers do not have access to sufficient information or tools to be knowledgeable.

Dr Sai Lakshmi, CEO and founder of Caura, who described the findings from the survey as “shocking”, said: “On 29 August, the day the [ULEZ] expansion came into effect, TfL experienced a wave of hurdles after its website struggled to manage overwhelming traffic, leaving motorists stranded and unable to verify their vehicle’s eligibility for the latest set of regulations.

“Incidents like these highlights exactly why drivers in the UK require a streamlined and capable platform, that takes the stress out of maintaining and owning a car, which has already proved difficult with increasing environmental pressures.”