ULEZ – what you need to know
Ultra low emission zones– ULEZ – are becoming a feature of life in the UK, with the London ULEZ now in place and other cities poised to follow. How will this affect you and what can you do to avoid the charges? Jeremy Pick explores
What’s all this about, then?
The London ULEZ has been in force since April 8 2019. It now operates 24/7, 365 days a year within the same area of London as the Congestion Charge.
The scheme, which is operated by TfL (Transport for London), aims to improve the air quality of the city by applying additional daily charges to vehicles entering the zone which fail to meet the set emissions standards.
Those vehicles which do not must pay a daily charge to drive within the zone. In the case of motorcycles, this is £12.50 per day – the same as cars and vehicles weighing up to 3.5 tonnes.
Why does this affect me?
The Congestion Charge and the original Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) exempt motorcycles because they don’t add to congestion problems, but the ULEZ does not. Also, the ULEZ operates at all times – unlike the 7am-6pm range of the Congestion Charge – so even a quick trip in the middle of the night will still cost you the full £12.50. The penalty charge for failing to pay is £160, but this is reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days.
And this is set to grow both in London and elsewhere. From October 25 2021, the London ULEZ will expand to the zone covered by the North and South Circular roads. Five other cities – Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Derby and Southampton – plan to implement their own versions of ULEZ in 2020 too, and others are sure to follow.
Will I have to pay?
If your bike conforms to Euro 3 emissions limits (or Euro 4 or Euro 5), then you don’t need to pay. This generally covers models introduced from January 1 2006 so, if your bike is a 2007 model or later, you are probably okay. If your bike is more than 40 years old and licensed as a historic vehicle, you won’t have to pay either. In short, if you don’t pay road tax, you are exempt.
Bikes built between these two dates are also exempt if their emissions of nitrous oxide (NOx) are below Euro 3 levels, assuming this is on your bike’s entry in the DVLA database when the ULEZ cameras automatically check your number plate as you enter the zone.
There’s a catch in there – the DVLA’s records are incomplete so, even if your model emits less than the 0.15g/km NOx limit, you may still be charged automatically. You can check online using your registration plate on the TfL website at tfl.gov.uk.
How can I avoid paying the ULEZ charge?
Given that a rider entering the ULEZ every day could potentially end up paying £4,562.50 per year, there are obvious benefits to avoiding payment. But how can this be done?
• Switch to a Euro-3 compliant bike (generally a 2007 or later model), a historic vehicle (generally a bike built before January 1 1979) or an electric bike.
• Avoid the ULEZ altogether. If you are entering London but aren’t sure exactly where the ULEZ is, many satnav systems can automatically warn you or you can operate a smart routing feature so you can avoid inadvertently entering the charge zone.
• Apply for a Certificate of Compliance from the manufacturer. This is applicable if your bike is relatively modern and so produces NOx below the ULEZ level, but isn’t on the TfL/DVLA database. Many manufacturers (but not all) will provide this for free and you can apply online for exemption using your vehicle’s V5C registration document. Note that this only applies to the one specific bike so, if your mate has applied and received exemption and you have an identical bike, it doesn’t mean you are exempt as well.
• Apply for a Certificate of Conformity on your bike. This involves running your bike on a dyno at a TfL approved testing station to match Euro 3 standards. There is currently only one approved testing station – Riverbank Motorcycles in Bow, London E3 2TB – although TfL have said they will be approving others.
Tests can be booked online and the fee at Riverbank Motorcycles is £175 – equivalent to 14 days of ULEZ charging, so the potential for enormous savings is clear. If your bike passes, it will be exempt forever. If it fails but only minor modifications are necessary to pass – for example, a change of air filter – then Riverbank can do the fix and bill you (they will even fit catalytic converters to some models).
This is your only option if you can’t obtain a Certificate of Compliance from the manufacturer, which will be essential if the manufacturer is no longer in existence or if your bike carries a Q plate. As with the Certificate of Compliance, each test applies to the one bike only – so your mate with the same bike from the same year will have to get it tested as well.
What is the BMF’s position?
It probably goes without saying that the introduction of the London ULEZ and administering it using these terms has not met with universal approval and it’s not difficult to find serious flaws. The BMF’s official statement is as follows:
“The evidence shows that the use of motorcycles and scooters in cities helps to reduce congestion and thereby the overall levels of air pollution. Road transport is not the biggest cause of air pollution in London, motorcycles are only a small proportion of road transport and street observation indicates that pre-2007 machines are a minority.
“For low-paid workers, very possibly working shifts at unsocial hours or needing to travel on routes ill-served by public transport, a small- to medium-sized motorcycle, frequently more than 10 years old, is an affordable form of transport. Such workers can afford neither the proposed charge, nor to replace their vehicle. The BMF has been approached by members of the ambulance service, among others, who are in this situation. We therefore call upon the Mayor of London to follow the examples already made both in the UK (e.g. Birmingham) and Europe (e.g. Stockholm) and exempt all motorcycles and scooters from ULEZ charging.
“Note that the principal concern appears to be NOx (nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide) emissions. Studies of emissions in London show that motorcycles contribute negligible amounts of NOx emissions.”
Off to a bad start
The day the London ULEZ came into force, the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) – a BMF Corporate Member – sharply criticised TfL in an official statement.
The statement said it was “extremely disappointed to see that riders of Powered Two Wheelers (PTWs), that occupy minimal road space and reduce traffic congestion, are charged at the same rate as single occupancy 4x4s from the same era”. It was particularly critical of the fact that “TfL has chosen a cut-off registration date for PTW exemption of July 2007, even though many motorcycles and scooters registered before then do not exceed the required NOx limit of 0.15 g/km. At present, it is up to the rider to prove that their vehicle is compliant, which may require an emissions test at the cost of £175” – noting that “it is not hard to imagine the uproar if a similar burden was placed on car drivers”.
The MCIA called upon TfL to “suspend the charge for PTWs and engage on this topic, so that PTWs of all types can assume their rightful place at the heart of the air quality and congestion solution, instead of being erroneously vilified.” Its CEO, Tony Campbell, added: “The Mayor of London and TFL have simply got this wrong. PTWs can and do provide cost-effective, non-congesting and, in most cases, low- or zero-polluting transport solutions in the urban environment. We find it quite incredible that TFL and the Mayor continue to discriminate against the users of motorcycles and scooters and to ignore their benefits, while the Mayor has failed again to support his own manifesto commitments”.
This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of BMF Motorcycle Rider.
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Picture credit: David Hawgood (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license, cropped)