Drivers of petrol, diesel or hybrid cars could find themselves being charged to drive through Oxford city centre before the end of 2020.

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have published final draft proposals for the UK’s first zero-emission zone (ZEZ), which could go live as early as December 1. Under the scheme, any car that does not meet the council’s definition of “zero-emission” would be charged £10 to drive in a ‘red zone’ in the city centre between 7am and 7pm.

The council’s definition of zero-emission, however, does not limit drivers to electric cars. Hydrogen-powered vehicles would also be accepted free of charge, while plug-in hybrid cars capable of at least 70 miles on a single charge and emissions lower than 50 g of CO2 per kilometre will be exempt from the charge, too. Unfortunately, no such plug-in hybrid cars are currently on the market.

View of Oxford UK

As a result, the scheme effectively means any car with an internal combustion engine will have to pay the £10 charge to enter the zone, although that will increase to £20 in 2024. Until 2024, disabled ‘Blue Badge’ holders will get free access to the zone, as will vehicles registered to businesses within the zone. Until 2030, those who live inside the zone will get 90 percent off their fee.

From 2021 or 2022, the council is also considering a so-called ‘green zone’ surrounding the ‘red zone’, which covers just a handful of streets in the city centre. The green zone will operate much more like London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), with petrol cars will be charged to enter the zone unless they meet the Euro 4 emissions standard, while diesels will have to meet the Euro 6 standard to enter free of charge.

Radcliffe Camera in Oxford UK

“2020 will be a crunch year for our climate and all our futures,” said Councillor Tom Hayes of Oxford City Council. “We face a climate emergency that threatens all of our futures. For the sake of everyone in Oxford, and especially our children’s lungs, we must clean up the lethal air we’re all breathing. Oxford’s zero emission zone will come into force this year and help make 2020 the year we make a game-changing difference.

“With our strengthened zero-emission zone and the introduction of hundreds of supporting charging points, our medieval city is leading the electric vehicle revolution. Our two councils have taken a fresh look at the big idea of charging commuters to drive polluting vehicles in and out of the city centre. And we’re listening to Oxford’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change by speeding up our journey to a city-wide zero emission zone.

“Local government isn’t prepared to delay action. Our two councils are working together to enhance lives here in Oxford and across the market towns and villages of Oxfordshire.”

View of Oxford UK

But the plans do not have universal approval, with the Freight Transport Association (FTA) describing the system as a “tax on vital commercial vehicles”.

“The FTA is calling for Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council to reconsider their plans to restrict non-zero emission commercial vehicles operating within areas of the city,” said Rebecca Kite, the FTA’s environment policy manager. “It is simply too soon to implement such a punitive scheme; there are currently no zero-emission trucks on the market, and very limited options for vans. And without a workable definition for an Ultra Low Emission Truck, the scheme is effectively a tax on essential freight vehicles.”