10th April 2019

Motorbikes are London's lifeblood – so why has TfL let them down with ULEZ?

London, in common with many European cities, has an air quality problem and a traffic congestion problem. These two issues are not unconnected. 

It would be reasonable to assume that a solution to both would be welcomed, even incentivised, by regulators. However, yesterday's introduction of the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone, or ULEZ, means that efficient, congestion-busting motorcycles, mopeds and scooters are falling foul of the same £12.50 per day penalty as polluting, road-clogging, single-occupancy cars.

To be exempt from the charge, motorcycles and scooters (officially referred to as 'Powered Two Wheelers' or PTWs) must meet the Euro 3 NOx limit of 0.15g/km, which became law in July 2007. However, while many older machines comply with this limit, their riders are nevertheless being charged the same £12.50 daily charge as serious polluters like elderly luxury saloons and gas-guzzling off-roaders. 

Motorbike and scooter documentation was not historically required to include NOx information, so it isn’t always readily available. Because of this omission, TfL have put the burden of proof firmly on riders’ shoulders, by making them responsible for demonstrating their vehicle comes under the legal limit. One option available to PTW riders is to have their vehicle emissions tested at a cost of £175, a prohibitively expensive process for many of London's lowest-paid workers, and one that would cause uproar if it was expected of the car-driving community.

My organisation, the MCIA, is the trade body for the PTW and Powered Light Vehicle (PLV) industry. We are not suggesting that petrol powered motorcycles and scooters should be exempt from all charges, but feel that Transport for London should have shown a little more foresight with their charging structure.  Indeed, the MCIA was in conversation with TfL about sourcing data for all motorcycles and scooters to prove exemption (or otherwise) from charging, and due to the scale of such a project, requested a delay in the introduction of ULEZ in order to implement a fairer system. Initially this proposal was considered, but not pursued.

Of course, ULEZ is just another chapter in the history of our transport authorities ignoring motorcycles and scooters. Although the popular “active transport” triumvirate of walking, cycling or public transport holds good for those living and working a reasonable distance apart, the case for using the latest technology – lightweight PTWs and PLVs – where those alternatives are not viable, is compelling.

The forthcoming MCIA policy document The Route to Tomorrow’s Journeys lays out the case for putting PTWs and PLVs at the heart of transport planning and examines some of the benefits around changing our urban transport habits.

Research carried out on behalf of the MCIA by respected transport planners Local Transport Projects shows, unsurprisingly, quantifiable improvements in journey times and air quality when car drivers shift to PTWs and PLVs. Putting these smaller vehicles at the forefront of mobility also frees up valuable urban space for non-transport use, which is likely to become an increasingly important part of British life as our cities grow.

It’s a similar story with freight too. A side effect of a just-in-time society that has come to expect its online purchases to arrive without delay is streets clogged with under-utilised vans. Using Powered Light Vehicles would allow deliveries to come from out-of-town hubs, efficiently, punctually and cleanly.

Of course it isn’t possible to talk about PTWs without mentioning safety, which is always compromised when different vehicle types are required to share the same road space. The resource and commitment put behind cycling by TfL shows what can be done to improve safety, although in that instance the reduction in non-cycling road space has made life more difficult and dangerous for riders of PTWs.

In The Route to Tomorrow’s Journeys, the MCIA is calling for both national and local authorities to consider PTWs and PLVs in transport planning, by allocating dedicated road space, allowing access to bus lanes, providing secure parking places to alleviate theft and providing workplace parking levy exemptions.

Promoting PTW and PLV use is not anti-car, but it is about using the right vehicle for the right journey. There will always be the need for vehicles that can cover longer distances comfortably, with the capacity to carry passengers or freight.

But occupying a five-by-three metre urban footprint to transport one person on a medium-distance commute is no longer viable, irrespective of ULEZ, whether the vehicle in question runs on diesel or batteries. The time to think differently – about mobility, emissions, planning and traffic – is now.




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