Global Cities Monitor London's Ulez Success
The eagerly anticipated expansion of London's contentious ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) will be a focal point for policymakers globally as various cities deliberate over the feasibility of adopting similar initiatives.
A pivotal inquiry revolves around the economic viability of low-emission zones for adopting cities. Municipal administrations must assess the health dividends, potential revenues from tolls and penalties, the manifold impacts on businesses, and the financial implications for affected residents.
Since its inception in 2019, the prevailing Ulez—encompassing central London—has effectively curtailed nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions throughout the city by an impressive 23%, according to the London mayor's office.
According to a study by the University of York, the Ulez, the congestion charge that went into effect in 2003 and the more lenient low emission zone that took effect in 2008 have all reduced the likelihood of chronic illnesses by 22.5%, other health issues by 29.8%, and sick leave incidents by 17.7%.
A central inquiry for policymakers centres on whether the health advantages of these schemes translate into broader economic dividends. Research commissioned by Transport for London (TfL) and the Greater London Authority has forecast that London's air quality measures could amass approximately £5 billion in NHS and social care savings by 2050. This study further revealed that inaction could result in air pollution costing health and social care around £10.4 billion by the same year.
Enhanced air quality stands to offer considerable gains to enterprises. Air pollution is responsible for over 6 million sick days annually in the UK, and findings from the World Green Building Council suggest that improved air quality could augment workers' productivity by 8–11%.
Nonetheless, some small business proprietors have voiced reservations about the expansion, citing concerns over daily fees and the necessity of procuring new vehicles. In a recent survey, 39% of outer London business proprietors and 29% in inner London expressed apprehensions about the Ulez expansion adversely affecting their workforce, despite the mayor's £110 million scrappage initiative and a six-month "grace period" available for application.
Critics of the Ulez expansion have cast it as a revenue-generating manoeuvre for TfL. In the fiscal year 2021–22, TfL reaped £226 million from the initiative. The net proceeds from Ulez are then reinvested into the transportation networks of inner and outer London, potentially rendering sustainable transportation options more attractive and alleviating the pollution burden stemming from motor vehicles.
This paradigm has also found resonance in other cities. Birmingham City Council has allocated the £52 million accrued from low-emission zones to foster hydrogen bus trials, enhance railway stations, and develop cycling routes. Similarly, Bristol has extended grants and loans to facilitate the transition to low-emission vehicles.
Expressing reservations, the Builders Merchant Federation wrote to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, raising concerns that the Ulez expansion might discourage some tradespeople from operating within the zone. John Newcomb, the federation's head, noted, "This will have a ripple effect on end consumers, who may encounter greater difficulty and expenses in completing their projects."
Conversely, research has demonstrated that consumers tend to spend less on days with subpar air quality, with a Yale study revealing that Spanish consumers spent €25 million to €41 million less on days with pollution levels 10% higher than usual.
Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, an environmental psychologist and director of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (Cast), underscores, "While Ulez schemes serve as a significant 'deterrent' to discourage car usage, they may not be providing enough of an 'incentive' for specific demographics to transition transportation modes."
Recent research by Cast revealed that sociodemographic factors greatly influence public opinions. Low-income segments tend to exhibit more opposition to the policy, whereas those with children are more inclined to support it. "Given that fairness plays a pivotal role in policy acceptance, opposition to Ulez might stem from the perception of impracticability or inequity for individuals with older vehicles. Nevertheless, lower-income groups, by and large, stand to gain from Ulez, as they usually inhabit areas with the worst air pollution."
Dr. Audrey de Nazelle, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, asserts that profound transformations are essential both for curbing air pollution and addressing climate change. While Ulez contributes to this agenda, she maintains that more substantial endeavours beyond Ulez are indispensable.
"Ulez contributes to this and is part of the solution, but far more than Ulez needs to be done," she remarks. "We need to engage people with significantly transformative solutions rather than just obliging them to purchase another vehicle. By elucidating the manifold benefits and cultivating a shared vision of an ideal urban landscape, we are more likely to render these solutions politically viable for the collective advantage."
Having meticulously assessed the financial underpinnings of Ulez against the political ramifications, Mayor Khan has resolved to forge ahead with its expansion. The reception it garners in the forthcoming weeks is poised to dictate which other cities might elect to embrace a similar trajectory.
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Source: The Guardian