Why Do Disabled in UK Have to Pay ULEZ, But Not Congestion Charge?
The London congestion charge was introduced on 17 February 2003 with the aim of reducing high traffic flow and pollution and raising investment funds for London’s transport system. The congestion charge fee is charged on most motor vehicles operating within the Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ) between 07:00 and 18:00 Mondays to Fridays. It is not charged on weekends or public holidays.
The congestion charge zone covers the area within the London Inner Ring Road which includes both the City of London, which is the main financial district, and also the West End, which is London’s primary commercial and entertainment centre. The standard charge is $15.00 per day for driving a vehicle within the charging zone and enforcement is primarily based on automatic number plate recognition (ANPR).
Vehicles which are not compliant will have to pay $16.30 for entering the area each day, in addition to the congestion charge.
In April this year, London introduced the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). London is the first city in the world to have such a zone. It is hoped that the introduction of this zone will reduce the number of polluting cars in the capital and lead to a reduction in toxic emissions from road transport by about 45 percent in two years. The ULEZ will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week within the same area as the current Congestion Charging Zone (CCZ).
Vehicles which are not compliant will have to pay $16.30 for entering the area each day, in addition to the congestion charge. Currently vehicles which are not compliant are motorbikes that do not meet Euro 3 standards (pre-2007 vehicles), petrol cars and vans that do not meet Euro 4 standards (vehicles pre-2006), and diesel cars and vans that do not meet Euro 6 standards (vehicles pre-2015). Buses, coaches and lorries that do not meet Euro 6 standards will have to pay a daily charge of $130. Non-compliant vehicles will be picked up by ANPR. The ULEZ is set to be expanded in 2021 to cover the entire area between the North and South Circular roads.
As a disabled driver, I have never paid the London congestion charge as there is an exemption for disabled people who have a vehicle in the disabled vehicle tax class. There is no need for drivers in this category to register or contact anybody as this tax class is picked up by the ANPR cameras. However, disabled people who do not have a vehicle in this tax class or who are traveling in a different vehicle can also avoid paying the charge if they hold a valid Blue disabled persons parking Badge in the European Economic Area. However, this exemption is not automatic, and disabled people will need to pay a $13 fee and register for the Blue Badge discount.
The reason for this 100 percent discount from the congestion charge, is because it was recognized that disabled people have fewer alternatives compared to non-disabled people when traveling into and around London. For example, only a small percentage of tube stations are fully accessible for disabled people. However, when the ULEZ was introduced there were no such discounts for disabled people announced. When asked why this was the case, the London Mayor stated that “Most Blue Badge holders are not restricted in their choice of vehicle and so will be able to change to a compliant vehicle”.
However, the ULEZ does offer a time limited sunset period for vehicles with a disabled vehicle tax class until 2025. This means eligible disabled people can continue driving non-compliant vehicles without paying the fee for a further seven years. This is to recognize the fact that some disabled people’s vehicles have been modified and so, are harder to replace.
Although this makes it less of a financial burden for disabled people with non-compliant vehicles who are in the disabled tax class, there are many disabled people who fall outside this category, mainly because of their age. For these people it could mean having to buy a new compliant vehicle much sooner than planned or paying the fee. For those who rarely travel to London this is not such an issue, but for those who either live in the zone or travel in and out a lot this is a significant cost. Many people also feel a bit cheated as successive governments had previously recommended buying diesel cars which are now being targeted by this charge.
However, the general consensus is that London’s air quality needs to improve dramatically, and many disabled people suffer from respiratory problems which will undoubtably improve with better air. Therefore, it is right that we all play our part in improving London’s air not just for ourselves, but for future generations living and working in London.
Helen Dolphin MBE LLB BSc, is an Independent Mobility Consultant in the UK. She can be reached at email@example.com