It is easy to become confused by the various charges levied by Transport for London for the privilege of driving in the capital city. After all, TfL has introduced several different programmes over the years with the latest - the Ultra Low Emission Zone - set to further this expansion. Yet how can you determine if your vehicle is affected and know whether you are in a controlled area? Does the central London ULEZ cover the same area as the long-standing congestion charge map?
For clarity, it is essential to understand the difference between the various programmes.
Low Emission Zone
This scheme operates around the clock, every day of the year and applies to (mostly larger) diesel-engined vehicles. It covers all Greater London, Heathrow, and parts of both the M1 and the M4. LEZ will mainly affect buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles that do not comply with Euro VI standards for particulate matter. The scheme does not include cars, and it is possible to check if your vehicle is affected here.
Ultra Low Emission Zone
This scheme is a new addition and appeared in 2019. The zone initially covered an area identical to the congestion charge zone map, or basically the City of London and Westminster. However, this zone is far more restrictive, and charges will apply should your vehicle not meet the following standards:
Euro 4 for petrol vans and cars,
Euro 6 for diesel vans and cars,
Euro 3 for motorbikes,
Euro VI for lorries, coaches, and buses.
From 25 October 2021, TfL will expand ULEZ to cover all Inner London, in between the North and South Circular Roads. This programme also operates around the clock.
The congestion charge is a long-standing scheme that applies to many vehicles within central London. It now operates* between 7 AM and 10 PM daily, rather than just on weekdays. The charge is lifted over Christmas and during bank holidays.
You may be able to avoid paying the congestion charge if you drive an exempt vehicle. This will apply to any vehicles that produce less than 75 g per kilometre of CO2 and meet Euro 6 standards (diesel and petrol). They must also have (at a minimum) 20 miles zero emission capability.
If you own such a vehicle, you should register with Transport for London by paying an annual £10 fee. You can check if you are eligible by looking at your registration document to find the appropriate Euro standard and relevant CO2 emissions.
Changes never seem to be too far away, and only battery-electric or vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells will be eligible for a discount from 25 October 2021. At the end of 2025, TfL will eliminate discounts altogether.
Zone by Zone
All vehicles that drive into the area covered by the congestion charge map will need to pay the congestion charge. Some will need to pay the ULEV fee as well if they do not comply with the relevant Euro standard, while certain heavy vehicles may also need to account for LEV charges.
Understanding the London Congestion Charge Map
The congestion charge only applies within the most central part of London, including sections of the boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, and Camden, together with the city of Westminster and the city of London. Transport for London maintains a web page here, and you can enter a postcode or street name to see if your destination is a part of the congestion charge area map.
If you have never driven into this area before, do not expect to see any toll booths or other collection stations. Cameras will record the number plate on your vehicle as you enter and exit, and you will then need to pay the appropriate fee online or by phone.
Road signs will warn you when you are approaching the zone so you can make changes if necessary, and TfL has erected other signs at the entrance and exit points.
Paying for the Privilege
You will need to pay £15* to TfL per day and can do this online for convenience. Enter your country of registration and vehicle licence plate number, and you can pay the fee by debit or credit card. If you fail to pay on the day of travel, you will have up to 3 days to do so but will need to pay an additional £2.50 at that point.
If you fail to settle, you will receive a Penalty Charge Notice and be liable for a £160 fine. This can be reduced to £80 if paid within a fortnight.
By the way, before you enter, remember that the maximum speed limit in the area covered by the congestion charge map is now 20 mph or 32 kph.
*Changes to the Congestion Charge
The Mayor of London is determined to bring down levels of pollution and traffic levels within central London. Yet the pandemic may have accelerated those plans and TfL has made changes to the congestion charge to bring down traffic levels even further.
A temporary increase in the congestion charge should reduce trips taken in a private vehicle by up to a third and cut emissions by more than 10%. The government has accomplished some of these savings by extending the number of daily hours and including weekend travel. Also, TfL has temporarily closed access to the resident discount scheme for new applicants.
Driving in the Congestion Charge Map Area
If you need to drive in the area covered by the congestion charge map, then you should ensure that your vehicle complies with Euro emission standards or the latest cleaner vehicle discount rules. Otherwise, you will need to pay both the congestion charge and ULEV.
Many motorists in your position are thinking about trading up to a newer vehicle. This may be even more pressing when you consider that ULEV is expanding to include all Inner London. In the meantime, use the TfL tool to find out if your journey will take you into the zone.