Up to half a million drivers in major UK cities could be “priced off the road” this year by charges for clean air zones, according to new analysis.
The AA says that many people who rely on their cars for essential trips are at risk of being forced off the road by regulations aimed at cutting urban air pollution.
Its president, Edmund King, warned that lockdown was likely to make matters worse as people turn to private vehicles in an effort to avoid public transport.
Clean air or low emissions zones are urban areas where drivers of older, more polluting vehicles face daily charges for entering or using the road.
In London owners of pre-Euro 4 petrol or pre-Euro 6 diesel cars have to pay £12.50 per day to use their cars within its ULEZ, which currently covers the same parts of the city as the Congestion Charge. This applies to those who live within the zone and drivers travelling into it.
From October, the London ULEZ will be expanded to cover the whole of London within the North and South Circular Roads.
Also this year, Birmingham is to introduce its own clean air zone where drivers will be charged £8 per day if their cars don’t meet minimum emissions standards.
The AA estimates that there are currently between 250,000 and 300,000 non-compliant vehicles in London’s ULEZ and the expansion of the zone will add another 100,000 to this. A similar number of vehicles in Birmingham will be affected when its clean air zone comes into effect on 1 June, meaning drivers of up to 500,000 non-complaint vehicles face paying steep daily charges or being forced to abandon their car.
Other UK cities including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bath and Bristol are also considering their own low-emissions zones, raising the prospect of millions of drivers being priced off the roads.
Edmund King, AA president, commented: "Millions of drivers in London will find themselves on the wrong side of the road when the Ulez scheme is expanded.
"There is a very real risk that many people who rely on their car for essential journeys will be priced off the road.
"With the whole country back in lockdown, this is likely to have an even bigger impact than previously thought as more people will be trying to avoid public transport by using private cars."
Euro 4 and Euro 6 are standards designed to limit the maximum tailpipe emissions of cars and other vehicles. All petrol cars registered from 1 January 2006 are Euro 4 compliant while most diesel registered from 1 September 2015 are Euro 6. Some diesels built before that date but not registered until later (up to September 2016) may still have a Euro 5 engine. This can be checked with the manufacturer.