Around 700,000 car drivers in Greater London could be liable to pay the £12.50 Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) when the scheme expands in August. That’s the conclusion the RAC has drawn from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) ahead of the zone’s expansion this summer.

As of February 22, 2023, the DVLA data shows a total of 691,559 licensed cars in the whole of Greater London were either petrol cars first registered prior to January 2006 or diesel cars registered prior to September 2015 – the key dates for meeting ULEZ standards. And the figure rises to 851,065 when counting all non-compliant vehicles, rather than solely cars.

However, the RAC says the number of drivers affected is likely to be much higher, because of drivers entering London from neighbouring counties such as Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex. Transport for London (TfL) estimates that around 160,000 non-compliant cars currently drive in the area that will become part of the zone every day.

Ultra Low Emission Zone ULEZ warning sign in London

The zone is set to expand across all London boroughs from August 29, 2023, at which point any petrol car that fails to meet the Euro 4 emissions legislation or any diesel that fails to meet the Euro 6 standards will be charged £12.50 a day to drive in the zone. Drivers who fail to pay the fee will face a fine of £160.

TfL says the zone is necessary because air pollution “contributes to the premature death of thousands of Londoners every year”, and it says traffic is one of the key contributors to air pollution in the capital.

ULEZ charge congestion warning sign in central London

However, the RAC’s head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, said the ULEZ expansion would have a huge impact on businesses and workers, and there should be some way of softening the blow.

“Cleaning up London’s air should undoubtedly be a priority, but the sheer number of vehicles that don’t meet ULEZ emissions standards in Greater London suggests there will be a massive financial impact on motorists and businesses through having to fork out £12.50 every day they drive in the zone,” said Lyes.

“We desperately need more co-ordination between the mayor and the government to help small businesses, tradespeople, NHS staff and carers who have no choice but to drive into the expanded ULEZ for work purposes from outside Greater London. Consideration should also be given to those who work at night when public transport is greatly reduced in the outer boroughs.”