The new ultra low emission zone (Ulez) will come into force today, forcing the worst polluting cars to clean up or pay a daily £12.50 charge.
The zone will initially cover central London and will be clearly signposted with road signs along key boundary points. Cars and vans will need to meet new exhaust emissions standards or else pay the charge, which will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It will come on top of the daily congestion zone charge, which stands at £11.50 and operates from 7am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
Fines for cars have been set at a maximum of £160, which will be reduced to £80 if it is paid within 14 days. For lorries, the penalties are higher: fines have been set at for £1,000 which will be cut to £500 if paid within two weeks.
The Ulez move is part of a radical plan to tackle London’s air pollution, which is operating at illegally high levels and is known to increase health problems such as asthma, and even psychosis.
While a number of businesses and car owners believe Ulez will be good for the city, research shows they are less prepared for it.
According to courier firm CitySprint, which recently surveyed more than 1,000 SMEs, over half of businesses in London will be affected by Ulez, but two fifths have not taken any steps to prepare for it.
Meanwhile, research by car dealer Auto Trader reveals around 90 per cent of London drivers are unclear about which vehicles will be affected by Ulez.
Only 11 per cent of the 802 car owners quizzed by the company knew for sure that diesel cars registered before 2015 would have to pay the new charge, while only 16 per cent knew that petrol cars over 14 years old would also have to pay.
And almost a third wrongly thought all vehicles would have to pay the Ulez charge.
It is estimated that up to 2.5m cars, vans, motorbikes, lorries, buses and coaches will have to pay the Ulez charge.
Auto trader director Ian Plummer said: “The only thing that is clear is that confusion reigns among London’s 2.6m car owners. Thousands of bamboozled drivers face fines of £80 or more in the first few months.
“We support the introduction of ULEZ and its expansion in 2021, but it’s critical that more is done to ensure motorists are properly informed.”
The boss of car-sharing company Zipcar says Ulez has achieved Transport for London’s (TfL) aim of reducing London’s car dependency – nearly half of car owners in the capital say they will use their cars less as a result of the new charge, which is estimated to bring in £174m for a cash-strapped TfL in its first year.
Zipcar’s research of 1,000 car owners in March found that nearly a third thought Ulez would be good in the long term and the sam amount saying they believe it will be a good thing from the outset.
Zipcar general manager Jonathan Hampson said: “London needs urgent change when it comes to tackling the challenges of congestion and poor air quality, and new measures like the ULEZ are essential to help change attitudes to car usage.
“However it’s a big transition and requires help and support. That’s why at Zipcar UK we’re offering businesses and individuals in London incentives to try car and van sharing. In that way we can help reduce the cost and hassle of car ownership in the capital whilst providing access to vehicles when needed, and help change overall attitudes to car and van usage once and for all.”