Currently it covers the same area as the Congestion Charge zone but the plan is to extend it as far as the North and South Circular Roads. That's a huge increase... from 1.3% of the capital by area to 24%, and encompassing 40% of its population. [booklet (pdf)]
The expanded ULEZ is targeted at users of high polluting vehicles in an attempt to reduce particulates and improve air quality. A lot more of North London will be included than South London, which might sound unfair but is a fairly decent match to where the worst pollution is.
A daily charge will be applied for driving inside the zone, and diesels bear the brunt.
Roughly speaking, you have to pay if your vehicle was registered...
• before 2005:cars with petrol engines (Euro 4)
• before 2006:vans with petrol engines (Euro 4)
• before 2007:motorbikes(Euro 3)
• before 2014: lorries, coaches and larger vehicles(Euro VI)
• before September 2015:cars with diesel engines (Euro 6)
• before September 2016:vans with diesel engines (Euro 6)
A 13 year-old petrol-driven car pays nothing, but a 5 year-old diesel-driven van pays full whack. (best check online to confirm whether your vehicle is or isn't affected)
For cars, vans and motorbikes the daily charge is £12.50.
For lorries, coaches and larger vehicles it's a whopping £100.
Importantly there won't be a resident's discount, so the charge for driving within the ULEZ applies whether you live in the zone or not. Quick trip to the shops... £12.50. Driving either side of midnight... £25. Commuting to work five days a week and a visit to gran's at the weekend... £75.
Driving round the North and South Circulars remains free, which'll be great if you're trying to cross the river via the Woolwich Ferry but potentially expensive if you want to use the Blackwall Tunnel. Extra cameras are already going up around the boundary, and plenty more cameras exist to keep tabs on those inside.
Residents of Barking, Balham and Brentford marginally escape, but those in Bowes Park, Beckton, Barnes and Blackheath are going to have to stump up or change their cars. This is of course the intention, or better still to nudge people to switch to walking, car clubs and public transport.
This map shows the percentage of households with at least one car. (some smaller boroughs, conveniently, have the same proportion as the borough nextdoor)
The lowest levels of car ownership are in inner London, dropping as low as three in ten households in Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets. This proportion increases dramatically the further out you go, almost reaching the national average of 78% in the outer boroughs. The new ULEZ boundary, intriguingly, approximates to the dividing line between "most households have a car" and "most don't".
To put all this into perspective, City Hall's estimate is that four out of five cars in London already meet the ULEZ emissions standards so won't incur charges. But for the less well-off with a second-hand diesel parked out front, and only 12 months to make a difference, it could be a whopping financial shock.
Had everything gone to plan the 2020 Mayoral election would have been safely out of the way long before the ULEZ extension kicked in. But the delay until May 2021 brings the launch date much closer, which Sadiq's opponents will undoubtedly conspire to make an important issue. Never underestimate the fury of a driver who bought their vehicle in good faith ("but everyone was telling me to get a diesel!") only to be told they now need a new one.
And things could be much worse. One of the conditions the government is considering imposing on TfL in return for a bailout is the extension of the Congestion Charge zone to cover the same area as the extended ULEZ. This would be a double whammy for owners of high-polluting vehicles inside the zone who'd suddenly be charged £27.50 for driving anywhere. But it'd also drag owners of the 80% of less-polluting vehicles into the fray, and that's a heck of a lot of voters.
At present the Congestion Charge extension is only a proposal, which the Mayor intends to fight, rather than an imposition. It's also unclear if and how a resident's discount might be applied, the technicalities of which might have all sorts of additional consequences. Meanwhile who knows where public transport capacity might be by this time next year, potentially still unable to cope with an influx of bankrupted drivers.
Whatever, 25th October 2021 looks like being a good day not to own a car... which is of course essentially the point.