My Urban Car

Solving a problem with the ULEZ to cut air pollution from vans further and faster


The timing of the ULEZ rollout, especially the inner zone in April 2019 will push businesses to replace old diesel vans with dirty but exempt Euro 6 diesels rather than the wider choice of affordable zero emission long range EV vans due by 2021.

Within a week of our article Addison Lee anounced a big order for 1200 new diesel minvans


Allowing most of the ULEZ fees paid by diesel van drivers over the next 24 months to be credited against the purchase of a zero emission EV van or a plugin petrol hybrid van. Of the potential £4,562 in ULUZ charges per yr up to £10 of the £12.50 would be credited – or up to £3,650 in one year or £7,300 over 2 years. The exact credit would reflect the charges paid for the particular diesel van being replaced. Requiring scrappage of older vans should be considered.

Key advantages

  • allows vans to be replaced with truly clean close to zero emissions vehicles
  • saves money in grants by effectively crediting ULEZ charges against a new vehicle
  • Converts the ULEZ penalty into an effective mechanism to assist small and large businesses to moving to clean new van technology
  • minimises the chance that the ULEZ will push some businesses into purchasing more diesel vans that are only slightly cleaner than the old vans they replace
  • maximises the number of zero emission vans that could be on the road over the next 3 years
  • the short term effect on air quality of delaying replacement of existing diesel vans on the roads will be offset by much greater cut in the number of all diesel vans by 2022. A sunset on the use of the credit would accelerate this.
  • is self financing


There are around 4m vans in the UK and over 90%  of them are massively polluting diesels. The majority of these  vans are pre Euro 6 models that on average are around 15x as polluting as a petrol car. Even the Euro 6 diesel vans are around 10x as polluting as a petrol car and still twice as polluting as fully loaded Euro 6 diesel lorry. (the lorrys had a stricter test to pass that required much more effective emissions control)

Not only have online deliveries fuelled a massive increase in the number of vans on the road, they have also increased the number of vans in urban areas where pollution causes enormous health costs and damage to quality of life.

The London ULEZ (Ultra low emission zone)

The Mayor of London has recognised the public health crisis caused by poor air quality in London and has initiated one of the most ambitious plans to improve air quality of any city in the world judged on the key criteria of

  • selection of cars and vans to be charged – Euro 6 for diesels
  • Hours of operation – 24 hours, 365 days a year
  • Area covered – central London from April 2019 – most London by October 2021
  • Enforcement – CCTV with ANPR cameras
  • Exemptions – Taxis and residents – resident discount removed in October 2021
  • Level of charge – £12.50 a days

By contrast the much publicised diesel bans in Germany are less rigorous in enforcement, selection, penalties and areas covered.

The problem the ULEZ may cause

The ULEZ is set to be a well implemented effective way to cut illegal levels of  air pollution in London and serve as a template for improving air quality in other areas.

It does cause a problem though. Around 90% of diesel vans are pre Euro 6  and therefore will be liable to the charge. Used every day of the year would cost £4,526 in ULEZ charges for these polluting vehicles. Which will drive 2 waves of purchases of new vans that are exempt from the charge.

While this should be a good thing the vast majority of vans available are – newer diesel vans. Some Euro 6 diesel vans on sale are still up to 20x as polluting as a petrol car although from Sept 2019 diesel vans should be “only” 3x as polluting as a petrol car.

The clean vans are nearly here – but not quite

There are some petrol vans as an alternative to diesel but these could produce more CO2 and are less efficient on a heavy vehicle.

There are also a few Electric vans available but most are very expensive and have real world range of under 100 miles.

Van makers have woken up to the issue and better value longer range models are on the way – but the timing is set to be just after the first wave of sales triggered by the ULEZ – and some will be about the same time as the second wave when the ULEZ is expanded.

The first major petrol hybrid launch will be the Ford Transit in September 2019. 

Longer range EV models from Ford and VW are due in 2021. It would be ironic if the ULEZ forced business to replace old diesels with new ones that will be on the road for 10 or more years – when a wide range of zero emissions vans were so close to being available. 

David Nicholson

David Nicholson Is the founder of Rivergecko Ltd & MyUrbanCar which provide consultancy and advice for drivers and fleets to speed the transition from dirty fossil fuel transport to clean vehicles powered by renewable energy on land water and air.

The @MyUrbanCar twitter feed is a source of news & reviews of electric & plugin cars and vans in the UK.
The @rivergecko twitter feed & websites bring news and opinion on cleantech transport including cars, vans, buses, trucks, shipping, rail & aviation as well as autonomous vehicles & renewable energy, air pollution & motor industry news.

David Nicholson has worked as an underwriter at Lloyd's of London since the 1980's. His interest in technology goes back many years including interactive mapping, apps, green tech, boats, solar and cars.

1 comment

  • […] Diesel still dominates the market for van sales. Legacy van makers have dragged their feet on introducing Electric versions and most to date have until recently been under-specced and priced not to sell. This is finally changing with new models arriving with decent range and ability. They remain more expensive than diesels though. We believe there is a strong case for van drivers to pay the full congestion charge including in new diesel vans but that a substantial proportion of the charges they pay should be available to be refunded towards the cost of an electric replacement. This should cut diesel van sales quickly and make a proportion of the charge a savings plan for clean replacement. We outlined this for the ULEZ previously but the policy works even better for congestion charge paym… […]