London’s new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) could be rolled out a year earlier than anticipated, a move that could unfairly penalise small businesses according to the RAC.
Drivers wishing to enter the ULEZ will have to ensure their vehicle meets emissions standards or pay a charge from 2019, London mayor Sadiq Khan has announced.
Initially applying to inner London, the ULEZ would be expanded from 2020 to the North and South Circular for motorcycles, cars and vans, and across the capital for lorries, buses and coaches.
But the RAC has raised concerns over the decision, saying it could unfairly penalise small businesses, as well as less well-off private motorists.
As part of the Clean Air Action plan, drivers of older, less environmentally-friendly cars sold before 2005 would also have to pay a £10 pollution charge to enter central London from 2017.
Known as the T-charge, the levy would have to be paid on top of the existing congestion charge of £11.50, but not in addition to the ULEZ fee.
The plans will also look at developing a detailed proposal for a national diesel scrappage scheme, which the Government would have to implement.
A scrappage scheme would allow motorists – once actively encouraged to switch to low-carbon options – to trade in their diesel vehicles for alternative cars at a lower cost, funded by the Government.
But experts have argued that this initiative would have only a slight impact and have instead urged ministers to consider alternatives, with RAC’s chief engineer, David Bizley, stating that "such a solution would only pay off if it were to include the UK’s worst road offenders - public transport and commercial vehicles".
Proposals have also been put forward, however, for plans to create “clean bus corridors” and to bring forward the date from which double-decker buses would have to comply with pollution regulations.
But the RAC fears implementing the ULEZ a year early would disadvantage motorists who would have a year less to find alternatives, after recently buying greener Euro 5 diesel vehicles.
Pete Williams, head of external affairs, said: “Small firms operating in the capital now face a real challenge and need to start planning for the changes announced by the mayor changes now – either by gradually refreshing their fleets or by considering leasing, which ensures vehicles supplied will be compliant and potentially more cost effective in the long term.
“It is also vital that pressure remains on cleaning up London’s buses and taxis, which contribute significantly to poorer local air quality.
"Finally, since congestion is inextricably linked with poor air quality, efforts to get traffic flowing in the capital more freely also need to be stepped up. Data indicates some average traffic speeds in London are now slower than those in the horse and cart era.”
Londoners have until July 29 to contribute their views on the proposals, with a more detailed consultation expected later in the year.
The announcements come as figures show that around 9,500 Londoners die from long-term exposure to air pollution every year.
Launching his proposals, Mr Khan said: “Just as in the 1950s, air pollution in London today is literally killing Londoners. But unlike the smoky pollution of the past, today’s pollution is a hidden killer.
“The scale of the failure to tackle the problem is demonstrated by the failure of the Government and the previous Mayor to meet legal pollution limits. Urgent action is now needed to ensure Londoners no longer have to fear the very air we breathe.”