How Did the ULEZ Change?

Written by Danny Collins
Last updated: September 27, 2023

The ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) in London changed on 29th of August, 2023, expanding to encompass a larger area and impact more drivers living and travelling through London boroughs, whether they were first-time car buyers or not.

Created to address air pollution and promote cleaner transportation, London’s ULEZ charges vehicles that cannot meet modern emission standards when driving in specific areas. It is enforced 24 hours a day for 364 days of the year (365 days during a leap year) and excludes Christmas Day.

But when did it begin, and what impact does it have? Where did it start, and what do the current changes mean?

This blog explores the ULEZ’s history and evolution since its initial introduction.

The Birth of the ULEZ

Heavy car traffic on a highway with exhaust gases hovering above.

The Ultra Low Emission Zone, or ULEZ, was a response to air pollution in London. As urbanisation and vehicle numbers increased, so did harmful emissions.

The ULEZ helps lessen the pollution levels: a designated area where only vehicles meeting stringent emissions standards could enter without incurring charges. The original plans were announced by Boris Johnson in 2014 when he was the Mayor of London. 

In April 2019, Sadiq Khan introduced the ULEZ, covering the same area as the Congestion Charge Zone. This significantly helped to reduce air pollution’s impact on the environment and London residents, as older, more polluting vehicles were charged a fee for entering the zone while cleaner ones were not.

The primary goal was to drastically reduce harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides, improving the air quality for all Londoners.

By taking these steps, the ULEZ aimed to create a healthier, more sustainable urban environment while addressing the public health concerns associated with poor air quality, such as asthma.

Early Days and Initial Challenges

A red circular stop sign at dusk.

The results from the ULEZ were promising, with a noticeable reduction in harmful emissions and improvements in air quality within the ULEZ boundaries. However, this change came with several challenges.

Public Awareness and Acceptance

One of the initial difficulties was ensuring that Londoners knew the ULEZ and understood its significance. Public education campaigns began months before the ULEZ’s introduction and gradually helped to spread awareness.

Enforcement Issues

Enforcing the ULEZ regulations was another challenge. Ensuring non-compliant vehicles were identified and penalised required robust monitoring and enforcement. Introducing automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras was crucial in addressing this problem.

If you need to find out whether your vehicle is compliant to prevent getting fined, use a ULEZ vehicle checker.

Measures Taken to Address These Challenges

Transport for London (TfL) worked on extensive communication campaigns to enhance public awareness. Additionally, TfL collaborated with various stakeholders to make compliance easier, including offering grants for upgrading or replacing older vehicles and creating tools like the ULEZ checker.

Expansions and Modifications

Over time, the ULEZ evolved to encompass a broader area. In October 2021, the ULEZ boundaries expanded significantly, covering a more extensive part of London. This expansion aimed to reduce vehicle emissions further, benefiting a larger population and encouraging the adoption of cleaner vehicles.

In August 2023, the ULEZ expanded again. It now covers the City of London and all London boroughs. The ULEZ does not currently include the M25, and the charges and standards have stayed the same with this expansion.

London’s LEZ (Low Emission Zone) was introduced in 2008 and didn’t apply to bikes or cars. To make a more substantial impact on air quality, the ULEZ introduced stricter emission standards. Vehicles, including cars, entering the zone must meet Euro 6 standards for diesel engines and Euro 4 for petrol engines. 

Beyond cars and vans, the ULEZ includes other vehicle types, such as motorcycles and mopeds, which are required to meet Euro 3 Standards. It ensures that all forms of motorised transport contribute to a cleaner London.

Community transport minibuses are exempt from the ULEZ until 2025. Lorries and buses are not required to pay the ULEZ charge at the time of writing.

The ULEZ’s evolution gained varying feedback.

Some applaud the improved air quality and healthier environment, while others voice concerns about the financial burden on drivers, particularly with the current cost of living crisis. However, it’s essential to note that these changes aim for a sustainable future, and government initiatives, such as grants and incentives, can help mitigate the transition costs.

Environmental Impact

A blooming plant in front of an office building.

Since its inception, the ULEZ has significantly enhanced air quality. The restrictions on high-polluting vehicles have led to a noticeable reduction in harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx). For example, the ULEZ has helped reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution by nearly 50% in central London.

Beyond better air quality, the ULEZ contributes to London’s sustainability goals by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By promoting the use of low-emission vehicles, it aligns with the city’s commitment to combat climate change. It benefits the current generation and works towards a greener and more sustainable future.

Across the ULEZ, data shows a marked improvement in air quality. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and air pollution levels have dropped significantly, and with the 2023 expansion, the ULEZ can help an additional five million people access cleaner air.

Social and Economic Effects

Man with backpack cycling in the city by morning light.

This zone has significantly impacted how people travel around London. With stricter emissions standards and charges for non-compliant vehicles, many have opted for cleaner and more sustainable transportation.

Public transit, cycling, and walking have become more attractive options, reducing congestion and improving overall mobility.

It isn’t just about environmental benefits but also has economic implications. Potential grants, such as the scrappage scheme, are available to help people in London scrap their cars and purchase more eco-friendly alternatives. However, others worry about the timing of the latest expansion and the financial burden it can bring with the current cost of living crisis.

Lessons Learned and Best Practices

A female hand holding a growing plant in front of a city.


The ULEZ in London offers valuable insights into the improvement of urban transportation. Key takeaways from its evolution include the importance of setting emissions standards, clear communication and public education, and the positive impact of financial incentives and grants for compliance. The ULEZ has demonstrated that bold measures can bring tangible mobility and air quality improvements.

This model is not confined to London alone. Other cities worldwide are taking note of its success and considering similar initiatives. For example, areas such as Bath and Portsmouth have clean air zones. By tailoring the concept to local contexts and needs, cities can replicate London’s achievements in their efforts to create healthier, more sustainable environments.

Future Outlook

An eco-friendly car at an electric charging station.

The evolution of the Ultra Low Emission Zone continues further. Potential ULEZ expansions and enhancements may come into effect in the future. This may include stricter emissions standards, broader geographical coverage, and the incorporation of new technologies to monitor and control emissions.

Technology will play a pivotal role in the ULEZ’s future. Advances in electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and improved emissions control systems can offer even cleaner alternatives.

Furthermore, innovative solutions like intelligent traffic management and data-driven policy decisions can help optimise the ULEZ’s impact on air quality and congestion.

The ULEZ is part of a broader shift toward sustainable urban planning and mobility. As cities use eco-friendly transportation options and reduce their carbon footprints, we can anticipate more pedestrian-friendly streets, expanded public transit networks, and incentives for shared mobility services. The ULEZ demonstrates that cleaner, greener cities are possible.

From its inception to its prospects, the ULEZ in London evolved to create a cleaner, healthier city, and as we progress, we must recognise the importance of reducing air pollution. We can aim towards a greener, more sustainable London by staying informed and exploring cleaner transportation options.

Ultimately, the expansion of the ULEZ aims to protect its residents and the environment, lessening the risk of health problems and lowering air pollution in the city.

If you are based in the London ULEZ area and want to check a car’s details to ensure it meets the necessary criteria before purchasing it, use our free car check today! You will have instant access to the vehicle’s history and other important information, such as vehicle type, emissions, and mileage history.