Not even scientific studies can reach consensus about how effective central London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has been, so it’s no surprise that the expanded version – the world’s largest such zone, which came into operation last week – doesn’t exactly have unanimous backing.
The arguments against – with which I have varying degrees of sympathy – are numerous.
It will make precious little overall difference, given that London’s air quality is improving anyway and more polluting cars will naturally reach the end of their lives soon enough; that nobody especially wants to drive around London but many have few alternatives; that it will disproportionately affect those who can afford it the least, especially shift workers; that if the authorities were really serious about improving air quality, they would ban domestic fireplaces and wood burners, only that can’t be used as a revenue-earner for cash-strapped Transport for London; that as it applies to those who visit Heathrow airport, it’s a tax on holidaymakers to the potential tune of tens of thousands of pounds a day; that applying it to motorcycles is particularly pointless; that if the authorities didn’t want us to drive diesels, they shouldn’t have spent 20 years telling us to; and that ultimately it feels like a cynical attack on personal freedoms.
To that last one, the counter-argument – and it’s also a compelling one – is ‘so you want the freedom to gas babies, do you?’.
There’s truth on both sides, consensus on nothing. Although the ULEZ does seem to be a vote-loser on the London margins, and I note that the protesters vandalising and removing infrastructure (almost 500 cameras, according to the BBC) don’t seem as unpopular as some other recent dissenters. But it’s here.