Writing about bikes for 20 years. Published in dozens of titles on five continents. Mildly obsessed with discovering how things work.
On 8th April this year London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) comes into force, applying additional daily charges to all vehicles entering the area that are deemed to be too polluting.
Whether you’re riding a moped, scooter or motorcycle, driving a car, a van, a minibus or a pickup, if your vehicle doesn’t meet the pre-determined emissions limits and weighs less than 3.5 tonnes, you’ll be subject to the same £12.50 charge every day that you enter the ULEZ.
Unlike the Congestion Charging Zone or the wider Low Emissions Zone (LEZ), which exempt powered two wheelers because they can’t be blamed for adding to traffic problems, the ULEZ doesn’t provide a get-out for being on two wheels.
And despite the fact that your bike won’t be spending any time idling in traffic jams, and won’t churn out the same levels of smog as the clattering diesel cars and vans you’re sharing the road with, the daily cost is the same if you don’t meet the limits.
Another clear difference from the Congestion Charge is that the ULEZ operates 24 hours a day, where the Congestion Charge is only active between 7am and 6pm. Nipping into the ULEZ in the evening? Pay up.
Vehicles weighing less than 3.5 tonnes that don’t meet the emissions limits will pay £12.50 per day to enter the ULEZ – that’s potentially as much as £4575 per year (if you enter the ULEZ every day on a 366-day leap year).
One payment gives permission to enter and leave the Zone as many times as you want for the rest of the day, but as soon as the clock hits midnight you’ll need to pay again. And it works overnight and at weekends, unlike the Congestion Charge. That means if you’re there for one evening, even at a weekend, but don’t leave until 12.01am, you’ll need to pay for two days’ worth of ULEZ charges – so just a few minutes in the Zone could cost £25 if you time it wrong.
Since this is bureaucracy, there are other charges to consider as well. Fail to pay in advance and you’ll be hit with a £160 penalty (reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days). There’s also a £10 admin charge if you want to register for Auto Pay, which automatically charges your account each time your bike is spotted going into the ULEZ. However, while using Auto Pay reduces Congestion Charge fees by £1.50 per day (from £11.50 to £10), there isn’t a discount for using it for ULEZ payments.
Bear a thought for car drivers entering the Zone in vehicles that aren’t exempt, though; they’ll pay the Congestion Charge as well, bringing the daily cost to £24 for cars. And for vehicles over 3.5 tonnes failing to meet the emissions limits the daily fee is an astounding £100, with a £1000 penalty for failing to pay in advance.
Click the map to download a pdf copy.
The ULEZ will initially cover the same area as the Congestion Charging Zone, a fairly small portion of the centre of London including Mayfair, St James, Waterloo, the City of London, Covent Garden, Charing Cross, Soho, Westminster, Finsbury, Holborn, Bloomsbury and parts of Marylebone, Lambeth and Southwark.
If you’re planning to head into central London and you’re not sure whether your destination is covered by the ULEZ, you can use TfL’s online postcode checker to find out.
There will also be ULEZ signposts to warn you that you’re entering the Zone, sitting alongside the existing Congestion Charge signs, and additional signs half a mile outside the Zone on major roads to give you a chance to stop and turn around if it’s not part of your plans, or to stop and pay the charge, online via the TfL website or using the TfL app (both available from 8th April) or by phone on 0343-222-2222 before entering and risking the penalty fee.
At the moment, the ULEZ is limited to the same small area as the Congestion Charge, but it’s going to grow in the future.
From 25th October 2021 – only two and a half years from now – the ULEZ is set to expend significantly, stretching out to an area using the North and South Circular Roads as its boundary.
And it’s not just London. Five other cities – Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton – have plans to implement their own Clean Air Zones in 2020. Details of those Zones and the vehicles that will be included or exempted may vary, but they’re sure to be looking closely at London’s ULEZ when making their plans.
In short, even if you’re not affected by the London ULEZ, there’s a strong chance that some sort of emissions-restricted area will be in force near you within the foreseeable future.
The good news is that if your bike conforms to Euro 3 emissions limits, or the newer Euro 4 or Euro 5 rules, then you’re in the clear and will be enter the ULEZ without paying the charge (cars need to meet Euro 4 rules or newer).
But of course, most of us don’t pay much attention as to which mandatory emissions limits our bikes were manufactured to meet… To work out whether your bike achieves Euro 3, the easiest rule of thumb is its age. Legally, any motorcycle that was newly type-approved after 1st January 2006 (so new models introduced in 2006 or later) needed to meet Euro 3. And any bike that was newly registered after 1st July 2007 needed to meet the same limit. Generally, then, if your bike is a 2007 model or newer, it should be in the clear.
However, older bikes are also eligible for exemption if their emissions – specifically their levels of NOx (nitrogen oxides) – are below Euro 3 levels. That’s where the waters of the ULEZ start to get murky.
Cameras positioned within the Zone and at its entry points are set up to read number plates, using the same technology as ANPR systems used by the police.
The system automatically reads the plate and cross-references the registration with DVLA records that should include details of a vehicle’s NOx emissions. If the NOx levels are below the prescribed level of 0.15g/km, there’s no charge.
However, DVLA records for many bikes don’t include those NOx emissions levels. If that’s the case, the system will use the bike’s date of registration to decide whether to charge it or not – if it was registered after 1st July 2007, it’s likely to be free, but any bike registered before that date that doesn’t have NOx levels held in the DVLA’s database will be forced to pay the charge.
Unless, that is, the bike is older still. If it’s more than 40 years old and licenced as a historic vehicle (making road tax free), then it’s exempt. So your chain-smoking Yamaha RD350 won’t be charged provided it was made more than 40 years ago.
TfL has provided an online system to check registration numbers here, using the same DVLA records that will decide whether or not you’ll be charged upon entering the ULEZ.
Paul Cowperthwaite, General Manager of Road User Charging at TfL, said: “Our vehicle checker uses the information on the vehicles particulate matter and nitrogen oxide data, provided by the DVLA. If this is not available we use additional data, including the year of manufacture, to determine compliance. This reduces the chance of a vehicle owner assuming they are compliant when they are not.”
However, the deficiencies in the DVLA records for bikes registered before the enforcement of Euro 3 means that there’s a whole swathe of models that actually emit less than the 0.15g/km NOx limit but will be automatically charged when entering the ULEZ.
Euro 3 was the first set of motorcycle emissions rules in this country to specifically measure and limit NOx levels, where previous standards (Euro 1 and Euro 2) only placed restrictions on combined Hydrocarbon and NOx levels. However, plenty of bikes made prior to Euro 3 will, in reality, pump out less than 0.15g/km NOx.
That creates a problem; riders of perfectly compliant bikes will be getting charged for entering the ULEZ. Depressingly, the rules don’t even seen fair; a motorcycle is limited to 0.15g/km of NOx, while a Euro 4-compliant diesel car can freely enter the ULEZ with NOx emission of up to 0.25g/km.
If your bike is a modern design, with fuel-injection and catalytic converters, there’s a pretty strong chance that it mightn’t pump out too much NOx. And even some older, non-cat machines might achieve the limits. But if TfL’s vehicle checker says you’re not excluded from the charge then the onus falls on you to prove that your bike is compliant.
TfL is aware that some compliant bikes might get caught by the charges, and if you’re prepared to jump through some hoops you can get added to the exempt-vehicle list. Paul Cowperthwaite said: “We encourage vehicle owners to contact us with evidence of emissions standards if they believe they are compliant to ensure they don’t receive any unnecessary charges when the Ultra Low Emission Zone starts on 8 April.”
What will you need? The easiest way to do it is to get a Certificate of Compliance (CoC) from the bike’s manufacturer. If they’ve got data to show that your bike was built to emit less than 0.15g/km, the manufacturer can supply you with a CoC, which can in turn be presented to TfL, along with a copy of your V5C registration document, via its online enquiry facility (here). By doing that, you will be exempted, but other owners of similar bikes will have to jump through the same hoops as the proof will be tied to your bike’s registration number rather than the entire make, model and year of that motorcycle.
Some manufacturers will provide a CoC free of charge, but others might ask you to pay a fee to cover the time and effort involved.
Since manufacturers aren’t guaranteed to hold NOx emissions data on pre-Euro 3 bikes, you might be forced to take more radical steps.
The MCIA told us: “Riders will be able to prove the status of their vehicles using a Certificate of Conformity (CoC), or where that certificate is unavailable, by testing vehicles at a TfL approved testing station. There is currently only one station that has recently been announced as being capable of doing this (cost £175), although TfL have said they are planning to write to more MOT stations offering them the opportunity. Currently each individual pre Euro 3 machine has to have its emissions established, meaning that if one example of a particular model passes the MoT station test or has a CoC, it doesn’t set a precedent for all similar models.”
It basically involves running your bike on a dyno under specific conditions to match the Euro3 standards, and measuring its exhaust emissions. The £175 fee will pale into insignificance if you regularly enter the ULEZ.
Since the DVLA isn’t going to hold NOx emissions data for a Q-plated bike, and a manufacturer is unlikely to be able to provide a CoC for one, your only option is to use the emissions test mentioned above.
This is a sticking point. You’d have thought that if a manufacturer can provide a Certificate of Conformity to show that one pre-Euro 3 bike emits less than 0.15g/km of NOx, then every other identical bike on the DVLA’s records should have its data updated to show it is also compliant.
But it doesn’t work like that.
The problem, according to TfL, is that it’s not clear when model changes and updates are made. It’s understandable, since some bikes get given minor tweaks to meet emissions rules without other changes, and continue to use the same model names and designations as their non-compliant predecessors.
However, TfL has told us that if it gets written confirmation, direct from an original manufacturer, that a complete series of vehicles has been made to meet the standard, then it will be possible to exempt them en masse.
The MCIA has been in discussions with TfL to try to mitigate the problems thrown up by the fact that some low-emission bikes will be automatically charged from 8th April, but it hasn’t been able to delay the introduction of the ULEZ until after the problem is solved.
In a statement, the MCIA said: “With only a week to go until its launch of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) on 8th of April, it appears that Transport for London will continue with its policy of charging some older PTWs £12.50 per day to enter the ULEZ zone, though all PTWs will remain exempt from the continuing congestion charge. This is despite several meetings with officials at TfL to discuss correcting the many inaccuracies and missing data from the vehicle database that TfL is using to administer the charge.
“We are currently awaiting guidelines from TfL to begin further discussions on gathering relevant emissions data for certain PTWs from manufactures. But despite strong representations from MCIA calling for a delay in implementing the charge for PTWs for many valid technical reasons, TfL are not willing to pause the rollout of the scheme while data is being gathered. We have also written to Mayor Khan to seek a pause to the rollout and are expecting his response in the coming days.”