My Urban Car

Oxford Calling – Clean Air Charges

Forget London’s ULEZ – Oxford has a Zero Emissions Zone

Ever since the “dieselgate” scandal when it first became clear that EU emissions regulations were a sham and that diesel vehicles in particular were quite legally emitting up to 30x official limits, there has been a quandary. Cities across Europe have legal obligation to keep air pollution at acceptable and legal limits. Because national governments completely failed to regulate emissions from new vehicles, the only way to reduce pollution is by reducing use and access to cities by owners of highly polluting combustion engine vehicles, especially diesels.

London led the way

In the UK, London originally led the way with a congestion charge with the intention of reducing traffic volumes. This was followed by a T charge which was the replaced by the current ULEZ charge. The ULEZ charge has expanded in area and has helped cut pollution but is hamstrung by the fact it exempts all diesels under 7 years old based on the same sham Euro emissions regulations that caused the scandal in the first place. In fact by 2025 even filthy 10 year old diesels will be exempt from ULEZ charges unless criteria are overhauled. 2021 research found that in Brussels diesel vehicles overall (old and new) were responsible for 80% of NOx pollution and 70% of particulate from road vehicles so exempting them is a fundamental policy failure.

The choice of what Clean air policy make most sense evolves around the existing policy framework. The Mayor of London’s policy is likely to evolve towards

  • An expanded ULEZ zone
  • A likely combining of ULEZ & Congestion charges

The UK moves on clean air zones has been characterised by one city sticking it’s head above the parapet with a more ambitious policy step. If successful this then that gets rolled out more widely. 

Although they didn’t shout it from the rooftops the UK Conservative Government essentially took Sadiq Khan’s UKEZ and adopted it for their national CAZ standards ( but allowing some choice on whether to exempt different vehicles inc exempting all diesel private cars for laggards like Manchester & Bath

The Oxford ZEZ is now leading UK clean air zone policy

Oxford’s new charge is now easily the most ambitious clean air zone in UK although it applies to a very small part of central Oxford only. The area is set to grow.

It does 3 important things that London’s ULEZ / Congestion charge doesn’t do

1 It only exempts cars with Zero exhaust emissions

2 It strongly differentiates between hybrids, London ULEZ compliant vehicles & older vehicles according to the pollution they produce

3 It provides drivers with a clear policy direction over time by pre-announcing what will change up to 2025

Specific Oxford Policy 

It exempts with Zero exhaust emissions- ie fully electric (or hydrogen) 

All hybrids with under 75g of CO2 per km get an 80% discount on the full charge

Petrol & diesel cars that are London ULEZ exempt get a 40% discount

All other petrol & diesel cars pay the full charge

Vehicle bandEmissionsDaily charge from 28 February 2022Daily charge from August 2025
Zero emission vehicle (ZEV)0 g/km CO2£0£0
Ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV)Emits less than 75 g/km CO2.Any two or three-wheeled vehicle emitting more than 0g/km CO2.
National ultra-low emission truck standard will be adopted for HGVs when defined.
Low emission vehicle (LEV)Vehicles with four or more wheels that meet the Euro 4/IV petrol or Euro 6/VI diesel standard.£4£8
All other vehiclesAny vehicle not meeting any of the above standards.£10£20

Back to reality..both Oxord and London are flawed

The reality is the ULEZ covers a massive and growing area of London but has completely inadequate policy to keep reducing pollution in London going forward. By contrast Oxford has policy that will be effective and will work in concert with UK “Net Zero” policy including the 2030 phaseout of fully combustion powered cars and the planned quotas for EVs by manufacturer.

What Oxford does do is clearly identify the weaknesses in the ULEZ and give campaigners a UK based clean air zone that has put its head over the parapet without a lot of fuss. It also highlights that fact the London’s Mayor needs to be put a bit more focus on tightening the criteria for the ULEZ not just endlessly expand it.

If one was to quibble about Oxford one would probably want to adjust the ULEV discount to only apply to hybrids rated under 50g/km CO2 and cut the LEV discount from 60% to 40%. The reason not to quibble is this. The actual monetary clean air charge levied matters less than you think. For most people, including drivers, there is a strong draw towards actions that are free (warm glow experienced) versus ones that involve a tax or levy that brings a cost but no individual benefit. So a clean air levy will have an effect whether it’s priced at the price of a packet of Quavers or bottle of good bottle of wine. Yes it will vary but either way when the driver next changes new or used vehicles they will try and hold onto those Quavers! It’s time the Mayor of London tried that out with strict criteria but a smaller charge that applies all cars that emit exhaust pollutants.

Oxford zero emission zone (ZEZ) official site

Background to the Oxford ZEZ (official site)

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.