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OPINION

Bike brands bank on ULEZ expansion – but will enlarged clean air zone boost active travel?

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Discounts and offers aim to get drivers switching to bikes

Browsing Facebook over the weekend, a targeted ad from Brompton popped up with the question, in bold capitals, “Live in the ULEZ? Get 10% off.” Then, on Monday, an email arrived from the Dutch bike subscription brand Swapfiets, offering a discount on its Power 1 e-bike headed “Want to avoid ULEZ & save money? Here’s how.” Whether such offers will see drivers abandon their cars en masse, or tradespeople ditch their vans, is another matter.

The Brompton offer is one of a number of bike-related promotions highlighted on the Transport for London (TfL) website ahead of next Tuesday’s expansion of ULEZ, the Ultra Low Emission Zone, to cover the whole of Greater London, with owners of the most polluting vehicles required to pay a charge of £12.50 each day they are driven in the capital.

Infrastructure - Segregated cycleway alongisde A40 in Acton, LB Ealing © Simon MacMichael.jpeg

Now, here at road.cc we’re obviously all for getting more people riding bikes, no matter whether you are a seriously sporty rider, someone who wants to explore local parks and towpaths with the family over the weekend, or as your daily transport to get you to and from work and the shops.

And promotions aimed at making it easier for people to do just that – besides the two highlighted above, the TfL website also highlights ones from a number of hire bike providers, subscription services and retailers, as well as e-cargo bike companies.

ULEZ – an opportunity for active travel?

While some might see it as an attempt to drum up business on the back of a controversial topic that is currently in the news, it’s possible that such initiatives – which in the case of Brompton and we imagine others flagged by TfL are funded in part by the scrappage scheme – will encourage some to switch to two wheels.

For example, many people who currently drive a couple of miles to their local train or tube station as part of their commute could easily switch to a bike for that journey (although, rather than a discount on the cost of a bike, the provision of decent, safe infrastructure, all too often lacking in outer London boroughs, would be the single thing that might prompt more to do so).

And the inclusion of e-cargo bikes within the offers also counters another myth commonly deployed against active travel initiatives – that tradespeople can’t be expected to function without a van (try telling that to the window cleaner I often see in Acton, merrily going from job to job on his Brompton, complete with his bucket, sponges and a small folding ladder).

Specifically when it comes to ULEZ, some are warning that builders, electricians, plumbers and the like who have a non-compliant vehicle will simply pass the £12.50 cost onto their customers.

That is perhaps a minor inconvenience in the context of an emergency callout from a plumber, but one that would have to be paid, albeit grudgingly; for larger projects, such as house extensions, say, the governing factor is more likely to be the bottom-line price.

And if your competitors aren’t loading on that charge in their quotes, because their vehicles comply, it comes down to a business decision; continuing to run a polluting van subject to the charge puts you at as much a competitive disadvantage of refusing to upgrade to the latest power tools (to use one analogy, it would be like the guy you hire to put together your Ikea wardrobe turning up with a manual screwdriver rather than an electric one that gets the job done in a quarter of the time).

Confusion abounds

In its announcement of its own initiative (not featured on the TfL site), Swapfiets highlights another issue surrounding ULEZ – it’s complicated. “The controversial new charge is creating confusion and concern amongst many drivers in Greater London, as people try to work out whether their existing car is compliant and if it isn’t – how it can be converted and exactly what the new government ‘scrappage scheme’ is,” the company says [to clarify, the scrappage scheme is actually from TfL, rather than central government].

Currently, the ULEZ comprises the area within the North and South Circular Roads, following the expansion in mid-2021 of the scheme which when it went live in 2019 initially covered the same footprint as the central London Congestion Charging Zone.

London, of course, is not the only UK city that has a clean air zone, or is preparing to launch one, and until recently opposition whether in the capital or elsewhere has comprised a mixture of local (mainly opposition) councillors, concerned residents worried about how the charge might affect them (possibly due to failures in clearly communicating how it works), and a small but very visible and highly vocal bunch of what might charitably be termed conspiracy theory crackpots.

Piers Corbyn drives home from Oxford council meeting (credit - Simon MacMichael)

The forthcoming expansion of the capital’s scheme however has become highly politicised since the recent surprise Conservative by-election victory in Boris Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which lies in the borough of Hillingdon, and where ULEZ was the key campaigning issue.

We’ve explored much of that background in the article linked below, but it’s worth adding that within the current ULEZ area, there is now only one Tory-controlled borough, Kensington & Chelsea. Several of the boroughs that will find themselves within the ULEZ zone for the first time next week, however, are run by the Conservatives – and also have much higher levels of car ownership than boroughs closer to the centre. Oh, and they also recently lost a court case in which they tried to block the expansion.

> Whose ULEZ is it anyway? Political chicanery as clean air zone set to expand to outer London

City Hall said earlier this year that 90.5 per cent of vehicles observed in Greater London as a whole were ULEZ-compliant and therefore exempt from the charge, with a slightly lower compliance rate of 85 per cent in Outer London; figures in both cases would include visitors from outside the capital, who will also be subject to the charge, which also perhaps explains that lower compliance out in the suburbs.

Misunderstanding … and misinformation

Despite that high level of compliance, recent conversations with acquaintances in west London, where I live, suggest that there does remain widespread misunderstanding of the expansion of the ULEZ and its implications for drivers – and beyond that, the deliberate disinformation about it is astonishing.

One story that did the rounds after that recent by-election was that a local resident doorstepped by a Labour campaigner was worried about having to pay the charge, which they assumed was the case given what they had read in Tory campaign literature. The car that person owned? A Tesla.

Cars on the A4 at Brentford (copyright Simon MacMichael).JPG

Now, that’s anecdotal, as is the episode I’m about to relate – but given other conversations I have had, the following does illustrate what I feel is a widespread misconception about the expansion (it speaks volumes that the person who tends to be the most clued-up when the topic in the pub turns to ULEZ is someone – me – who has never driven a car in his life, far less owned one).

We live within the area that became part of the ULEZ when it was last expanded, in 2021. A friend we visit regularly lives on the other side of the North Circular, and would always give us a lift home when we went to her place.

Shortly before the 2021 expansion, she told us she’d probably have to stop doing that, because of the charge, based on what she’d read in a leaflet that had been thrust through her letterbox.

This, from someone who a few months earlier had bought a brand new car, which of course is exempt because it is well within the emissions standards.

Naturally, after the expanded zone came into effect, she quickly realised that she didn’t have to pay a penny (and we still get our lifts home).

Likewise, I think there will be a lot of drivers in outer London and beyond who, come the end of this month, will get a pleasant surprise when they find out they’re exempt from the charge.

And if, before that lightbulb has switched on in their heads, they’ve reduced their car use for those short trips that can be walked, cycled, or done using public transport, and carry on with that habit – well, so much the better for all of us.

Cleaner air is a good thing ... no?

Let’s be clear about one thing. The expansion of a clean air zone in the nation’s capital is not part of what some people – even at the highest levels of government – would like to portray as The War on the Motorist.

It’s not even primarily about promoting active travel and public transport over using a car, although that of course is an important element of tackling climate change and making our cities more liveable.

What it is, is a necessary public health intervention aimed at preventing an estimated 4,000 premature deaths of Londoners each year due to poor air quality, by removing the most harmful vehicles from our roads.

That’s not a bad thing… is it?

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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28 comments

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Adam Sutton | 9 months ago
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In the South east I doubt it will make any difference to active travel, the infrastructure isn't there and even public transport options are lacking. It has just pissed people off and will likely ensure a Tory victory in those boroughs and ones on the border come the next election as ULEZ has become their focus, and it's working.

Edited to simply add a link to Dartford MPs news page to give examples. Hope that is OK.

https://www.garethjohnsondartford.co.uk/news

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David9694 | 11 months ago
1 like

Dear Mr Claridge

Notice of Intended Prosecution - Greater London Authority (Things That Really Annoy Me) Traffic Regulation Order 2023, commonly known as Khan’s Law.

This notice relates to a number of offences it is hereby alleged that you committed on 19 September 2023. 

First count: that on the above date at 19:21 you were heard to say “I’m just nipping to the garage - anyone want anything?” You proceeded to your nondescript silver Ford Focus Estate, drove it to the Anderson’s Garage Stop’n’shop, arriving there at 19:26.  

second count: CCTV images show your car parked across two spaces at the garage forecourt.

Third count : your vehicle was found on inspection to have insufficient tyre tread on both front wheels (and was prohibited under a separate notice). A further count of driving while uninsured has been withdrawn as police have accepted your statement  “sorry, bud I’ll sort it out in the morning” 

Fourth count: you returned home at 19:43 with the following items: 40 Lucky Strike cigarettes, a disposable lighter, a 1.5 litre bottle of Tom Cobley’s cider (medium), and a 200g bag of Doritos (Tangy Cheese) - none of these items is on the Mayor’s Approved Items list set out in Schedule D of the Order; further, the garage site is measured as being 953 meters from your home; this is contrary to the rules in Schedule F concerning length and purpose of a car journey. 

YOU COULD GO TO PRISON. These matters have been referred to HM Court Service and you will be contacted in due course with a court summons to answer the matters set out above. You are advised to contact a solicitor or citizens advice bureau to obtain legal representation. 

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Tom_77 | 11 months ago
1 like

Quote:

The controversial new charge is creating confusion and concern amongst many drivers in Greater London, as people try to work out whether their existing car is compliant and if it isn’t – how it can be converted and exactly what the new government ‘scrappage scheme

My understanding is that it's impossible (or at least impractical) to modify a non-compliant car to be compliant.

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Rendel Harris replied to Tom_77 | 11 months ago
4 likes

Tom_77 wrote:

My understanding is that it's impossible (or at least impractical) to modify a non-compliant car to be compliant.

It's not impossible but for pre-Euro 6 petrols it will cost upwards of £6000 and involves a lot of paperwork to get approval, though there are grants of up to £5000 available for charities, wheelchair-accessible vehicles et cetera. However a Euro 5 diesel van, minibus, taxi or light goods vehicle can be upgraded to Euro 6 for about £1500, though it has to be with a CVRAS (Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme) approved system and they are not available for all models.

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Hirsute | 11 months ago
4 likes

This is how you avoid the charge

//pbs.twimg.com/media/F4Dm46HXcAAM1-Y?format=jpg&name=small)

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quiff replied to Hirsute | 11 months ago
5 likes

"And I would've gotten away with it, if I hadn't been driving a liveried van"

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wtjs replied to quiff | 11 months ago
2 likes

"And I would've gotten away with it, if I hadn't been driving a liveried van"

In Lancashire, you still get away with it even if you are driving a liveried van. Matthews Plumbing Solutions of Garstang area (not to be confused with the business of the same name in Raleigh, North Carolina) has enjoyed glorious MOT free motoring in Combo van DX65 UCT since 4.2.23- courtesy of Lancashire Constabulary who binned my report from when the vehicle was 'bang to rights' on 19th April.

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chrisonabike | 11 months ago
3 likes

If 9 out of 10 cars are already compliant then surely this is just codifying current "standard practice" and adding a little pressure to those who haven't caught up? Complaints like "but this will do nothing except punish people" are missing the point that 1/10 is still a significant number of vehicles though.

"But this isn't the main contributor to particulate pollution". I believe there are other efforts in progress on the other things. Yes, may be a bit of "low hanging fruit" here (and even this is causing a lot of shouting). However the heating and industrial power plants doing the lion's share don't tend to drive around residential areas.

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IanMK replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
5 likes

So this was the headline in the Express

"Sadiq Khan's ULEZ disaster as majority of Londoners 'can't afford charge'"

The majority of Londoners aren't being asked to pay the ULEZ. I think if you need to mislead the public to win an argument then you know you're on the wrong side of the argument.

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Hirsute replied to IanMK | 11 months ago
4 likes

I mentioned one couple before who think they need to spend 40k on a new car to avoid the charge. If that's their budget, not sure what they are complaining about.

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IanMK replied to Hirsute | 11 months ago
2 likes

After lockdown (2021) my son bought himself his first car. He had a budget and we looked at the options. It was obvious even then that the better value for money would be a diesel. However he realised that ULEZ charges were becoming more common and therefore went for petrol.
When you makes a sizable investment it's sensible to weigh up the pros and cons. How many of the people now complaining about the ULEZ knew about the risk and still bought a non compliant diesel. Risk is in the nature of all investments.

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Cugel replied to Hirsute | 11 months ago
2 likes

Hirsute wrote:

I mentioned one couple before who think they need to spend 40k on a new car to avoid the charge. If that's their budget, not sure what they are complaining about.

Perhaps they wanted their new car to be a fuel-guzzlin' smoker with added noise-maker and child-killing front bumper, as this would get the attention of admirers standing about the roadsides yelling, in the various groups of anti-ULEZ loons? The drivers of the new smoker could toot approval of the loons and the loons could return cheers of approval for such a brave exhibition of freedumb.

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perce | 11 months ago
4 likes

A very good article. And nice that Conspiracy Theory Crackpots get a mention. They were a great band.

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Cugel replied to perce | 11 months ago
1 like

perce wrote:

A very good article. And nice that Conspiracy Theory Crackpots get a mention. They were a great band.

A great band!? Cuh!

Nothing but cacophony, off-key hootings, intemperate out-of-rhythm bangin', screeching arpeggios .... and all to a background of seven different conductors failing to conduct the dissonant jangle of broken instruments fumbled at by those who failed to pass even the very first module of the "How to play idea-toons tunefully" course. 

Mind, it can be difficult playing your toot-horn properly when you're busy wrecking a ULEZ installation.

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perce replied to Cugel | 11 months ago
3 likes

Bit harsh. Admittedly they were nowhere near as good as Thin End of the Wedge but they did have their moments. Their version of '' Tofu vegan sandal wearer blues'' did quite well in Outer Mongolia.

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Geoff Ingram replied to perce | 11 months ago
3 likes

I saw them years ago as support for Draconian Legislation. Never got the success they deserved.

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perce replied to Cugel | 11 months ago
1 like

Well I like Ornette Coleman so I'm quite used to cacophony and off key hootings.

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Pub bike replied to perce | 10 months ago
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perce wrote:

Well I like Ornette Coleman so I'm quite used to cacophony and off key hootings.

I thought in OC's 'time, no-changes' harmolodics free jazz there is no key centre so it can't be off key. 

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chrisonabike replied to Cugel | 11 months ago
1 like

Cugel wrote:

perce wrote:

A very good article. And nice that Conspiracy Theory Crackpots get a mention. They were a great band.

A great band!? Cuh!

Nothing but cacophony, off-key hootings, intemperate out-of-rhythm bangin', screeching arpeggios ....

A chin-stroker writes - this is an excellent "literal" description of their ouevre as experienced by the naive ear.  However - like the wilder excursions of Captain Beefheart's "Trout Mask Replica" - after several listenings it turns out that there is nothing random or "art bruit" here; guided by a master mind a complicated overarching framework appears, holding the ... (continues at length).

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Cugel replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
1 like

chrisonatrike wrote:

Cugel wrote:

perce wrote:

A very good article. And nice that Conspiracy Theory Crackpots get a mention. They were a great band.

A great band!? Cuh!

Nothing but cacophony, off-key hootings, intemperate out-of-rhythm bangin', screeching arpeggios ....

A chin-stroker writes - this is an excellent "literal" description of their ouevre as experienced by the naive ear.  However - like the wilder excursions of Captain Beefheart's "Trout Mask Replica" - after several listenings it turns out that there is nothing random or "art bruit" here; guided by a master mind a complicated overarching framework appears, holding the ... (continues at length).

'Ere, you lifted that from a 1971 hippy publication, possibly Oz or something worse.

I did cock an ear at Cpt B but soon uncocked it in favour of Love and even the early Joni.

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Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
3 likes

Quote:

Specifically when it comes to ULEZ, some are warning that builders, electricians, plumbers and the like who have a non-compliant vehicle will simply pass the £12.50 cost onto their customers.

As Simon correctly points out, £12.50 is very much a minor when added to the bill (we recently paid north of £4k to have four Victorian sash windows renovated, it took three days - an extra £37.50 would have been neither here nor there), but it's also worth remembering that tradespeople will have already factored in their costs in terms of VED, petrol, insurance, servicing etc when setting their rates. The anti-ULEZ brigade talk as if the idea of a tradesperson passing on a running cost to customers is some new horror that's only arrived because of evil Khan's machinations whereas it is, in fact, standard business practice.

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essexian replied to Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
2 likes

I do have to question how many service vans will be sufficiently old and do not actually meet the required standard? Given that most builders (well non "cowboy" ones) tend to use a reliable uptodate machine, not many I would say.

 

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Rendel Harris replied to essexian | 11 months ago
2 likes

essexian wrote:

I do have to question how many service vans will be sufficiently old and do not actually meet the required standard? Given that most builders (well non "cowboy" ones) tend to use a reliable uptodate machine, not many I would say.

Certainly very few, if any, will be using pre-2006 petrol vans, there will be some with diesel vans from 2014 who might have been planning to keep them for longer but even then most will have upgraded already, given that the average mileage for a trade van is around 15,000 p.a.

 

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Pub bike replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
0 likes

Also it can be claimed as a business expense so it is tax deductible and the true cost is likely to be in the region of £8 further marginalising the impact for tradies.

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essexian | 11 months ago
3 likes

Excellent article. Shame you don't get the truth like this in the Daily Heil or the like. 

However, popcorn on standby for when the bridge dwellers arrive. 

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Cugel replied to essexian | 11 months ago
5 likes

essexian wrote:

Excellent article. Shame you don't get the truth like this in the Daily Heil or the like. 

However, popcorn on standby for when the bridge dwellers arrive. 

 

It is a good article, especially as it reminds us that the policy is about reducing deaths and serious illnesses due to car pollution with other benefits such as the (hopeful) encoragement of active travel not really a major objective. One does get the impression that the anti-Ulezers might be addicted to toxic car fumes, which presumably explains why they don't mind killing themselves (as well as others).

The article does repeat one large chunk of commonly-found disinformation put out by Toryspiv and other anti-ULEZ loons - that the by-election had ULEZ as the major deciding factor and that the anti-ULEZ feeling lost The Bollard a win. However ....

Either ULEZ was a major issue, which means that the enormous swing vote against the Toryspiv (despite him just scraping in) indicates that the voters were very much for ULEZ. Or ULEZ wasn't a major factor in the enormous anti-Toryspiv swing as it was just Toryspiv antics in other matters that caused tens of thousands of voters to no longer vote for the spivs but some other ...... who was in favour of ULEZ.

In short, one way or another, the voters voted for ULEZ.

 

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Rendel Harris replied to Cugel | 11 months ago
3 likes

Cugel wrote:

 

Either ULEZ was a major issue, which means that the enormous swing vote against the Toryspiv (despite him just scraping in) indicates that the voters were very much for ULEZ. Or ULEZ wasn't a major factor in the enormous anti-Toryspiv swing as it was just Toryspiv antics in other matters that caused tens of thousands of voters to no longer vote for the spivs but some other, who was in favour of ULEZ.

Precisely, in a seat that has been won by the Tories 14 times since 1970 Labour slashed a 15% majority down to 1.6%, oh what a terrible failure due to your unpopular policies crow the Tory press.

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Brauchsel replied to Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
0 likes

Especially seeing as if the Green voters, who I think we can reasonably assume are pro-ULEZ, had voted Labour then Uxbridge would not now have an anti-ULEZ Tory MP. 

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