Long stories short
- Army officers said they had cancelled a presidential election and taken power in Gabon.
- Leaked emails show Putin ordered his superyacht Graceful moved from Hamburg three weeks before invading Ukraine.
- Abba’s Agnetha Faltskog, 73, said she would relaunch her solo career with a new single due out tomorrow.
By the time the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) was launched yesterday, at least 300 of 2,750 new enforcement cameras had been vandalised, disconnected or pushed over.
So what? London’s is by no means the world’s only Ulez but it is now the biggest. As of Tuesday the zone extends to all 32 boroughs and in some places to the M25. If this was New York it would include Queens, Staten Island and parts of New Jersey. If Paris it would go far beyond the Boulevard Périphérique and the A86 outside that. If Moscow, it would include everything inside the mighty MKAD.
Mayors and city planners from Milan and Barcelona to Montreal and Bogotá are watching closely to see if it will
- pay for itself;
- deliver dramatic public health benefits as advertised by cutting nitrogen oxide and particulate pollution;
- cut traffic and hasten net zero; or
- trigger a runaway auto-immune response from angry drivers, of which camera vandalism turns out to be merely the start.
The signs are it could do all of the above.
Money. Revenue-raising is not the aim, says the mayor, Sadiq Khan. This is a Ulez, not a CCZ (congestion-charging zone). The cost per day of driving a non-compliant vehicle inside its borders (£12.75) is well below Glasgow’s (£60) and Paris’s (a fine of up to €135), and revenue is expected to fall to close to zero by 2027 as non-compliant vehicles are phased out. That said, it’s priced to cover its £160 million infrastructure cost in its first few years, and boosters say it will deliver an effective £5 billion in savings to the NHS by 2050.
Health. Khan claims the expansion will save 4,000 lives a year. This comes with health warnings:
- “Lives saved” in this context is a handy but somewhat misleading metric for lives extended over the long term by lower risk of respiratory and heart disease.
- NOx and PM2.5 particulate levels aren’t expected to fall nearly as dramatically in suburban outer London as they have in denser central London.
- A large-scale survey published in June by Imperial College London found solid evidence of lower cardiovascular disease in 16 Ulezs studied, but said evidence for the impact of LEZs on respiratory and other outcomes was “less clear”.
Then again: the Imperial survey didn’t look at nearly 2,000 studies initially deemed relevant, and a broad correlation between exposure to NOx and PM2.5 (mainly from tyres) and diabetes and cognitive impairment as well as heart and lung disease is settled science. A new study from the University of Chicago says air pollution is more harmful to the average person than smoking or alcohol.
Congestion. The expansion could affect 700,000 motorists, according to freedom of information responses obtained by the RAC. If all these drivers got on buses the new Ulez would reduce congestion, but many will use Khan’s £2,000 per car / £7,000 per van scrappage scheme to switch to compliant vehicles.
Politics. The Conservatives hung onto Boris Johnson’s old Uxbridge seat by turning the by-election to replace him into a referendum on Ulez expansion. Susan Hill, the Tory candidate for mayor, says she’ll dismantle it if elected and replace it with hyper-local schemes. Yesterday a small but loud group of anti-Ulez protesters converged on Downing Street, whose occupant wonders if their anger, writ large, might be his last best hope of staying in office.
If more of Britain was like outer London, weaponising Ulez could be a strategy: it will disproportionately impact people
- on lower incomes
- who depend on their cars
- and have less access to public transport than inner-city dwellers.
So Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is worried. But politics is a numbers game. Inside the M25, 90 per cent of drivers are already compliant. Outside, most drivers who’ve experienced the introduction of LEZs have done so with financial support from central government, which supports cleaner air as a matter of policy because voters do. And as Daniel Freeman of the free-market Institute for Economic Affairs notes, the Ulez is exactly how Milton Friedman thought pollution should be tackled – a tax on dirty air.
Starmer should worry less.
Photograph Getty Images
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