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The ULEZ Tug of War

By Paul Baxter
3rd April 2024

Recent reports suggest that schemes to reduce emissions in busy city centres such as ULEZ in London and CAZ in Birmingham are achieving their objectives. Yet many UK motorists remain unconvinced that such schemes are effective at all, and feel that they represent nothing more than a ‘tax on motorists’ by councils and governments.

Our research with UK consumers found that believers and non-believers are almost equally split on the ULEZ issue. Almost half (45%) of motorists support the schemes, which are designed to help improve air quality by reducing the number of vehicles in cities that don't meet emissions standards. Just over four in 10 (42%) would welcome their expansion into more cities.

By contrast, 55% of drivers are not in favour of current schemes, while 58% would not support the launch of similar schemes in other areas.

When asked why those in favour of schemes support them, 79% said that schemes are reducing pollution in cities, that pollution is a major health issue (64%), that action has to be taken to improve the environment (56%) and that schemes are vital in helping reduce global warming (49%). A further 26% said they were in favour because their cars are compliant, and 9% said upgrading cars to be compliant is straightforward.

The reasons given for not supporting schemes such as ULEZ include the belief that people can’t afford to upgrade their cars (77%), that they are just another tax to raise money for councils or the Government (68%) or that schemes are unaffordable for people using their cars regularly (63%). A third (33%) of those against schemes said they were part of an ‘anti-car agenda’, while 35% believe they are ineffective at addressing pollution issues.

The focus on costs being the major problem with schemes for many motorists could be partly explained by the finding that 16% of drivers had been surprised to have to pay a charge under schemes like ULEZ. While 12% of drivers regularly pay a charge because they drive an older car into areas covered by schemes, 14% deliberately avoid such areas and 29% say they don’t pay charges because their vehicles are compliant.

Just 10% of drivers had changed their vehicle in order to become compliant with schemes, rising to 23% of drivers based in London, which has the most wide-ranging scheme in the UK.

Another impact on driving behaviour has been a reduction in distances travelled by car, with 16% of motorists saying they drive fewer miles as a result of schemes such as ULEZ and 6% using public transport more often. Drivers in London are more likely to drive less miles (29%) and to use public transport (12%) because of ULEZ.

Will the tug of war over schemes like ULEZ and CAZ recede? The evidence shows that schemes are already introducing benefits such as cleaner air. We can only anticipate that they will be expanded into more areas of the UK as such benefits are understood in more detail.

It makes sense for motorists to take action now to have a compliant car, and if it’s not possible to replace a vehicle outright to take action such as driving fewer miles, using public transport or switching insurance policy.

We’ve designed our insurance policies to reward more careful driving with our rewards scheme, while also giving drivers the peace of mind that they are reducing carbon emissions.