A new study has cast doubt on the effectiveness of ULEZ schemes

An examination of low-emission zone initiatives in the UK and worldwide reveals inconclusive evidence that they significantly enhance lung conditions – a primary rationale behind their establishment. Imperial College London’s study assessed strategies like congestion charging and low-emission zones aimed at drivers.

The study encompassed 16 global zone investigations, including London, Berlin, and Tokyo, concluding that low-emission zones do not consistently yield a ‘clear’ reduction in respiratory illnesses, despite contributing to fewer heart conditions. Congestion charging zones, however, did demonstrate a reduction in traffic-related injuries.

The researchers emphasized that the research did not consider the effects of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), implemented in 2019, and set to expand to cover Greater London later this year. Nevertheless, the preceding scheme, the Low Emission Zone for heavy diesel vehicles in London, was examined.

Though the research did not observe an increase in respiratory diseases associated with Low Emission Zones, only two studies showed noticeable LEZ-related reductions in respiratory outcomes. 

Supporters of low-emission zones frequently assert these measures alleviate respiratory issues like asthma and lung diseases. Conversely, the study discovered a decrease in heart disease-related indicators connected to Low Emission Zones.

Furthermore, the study uncovered a general decline in road traffic injuries following the introduction of Congestion Charging Zones (CCZs). The Imperial team systematically reviewed 16 studies on LEZs and CCZs, focusing on health outcomes.

Eight LEZ studies (published 2011-2022) analyzed German, Japanese (Tokyo), Italian (Milan), and UK (London) cities. The remaining eight studies assessed CCZs and were published between 2005 and 2021. For LEZs, most studies indicated LEZ-linked reductions in cardiovascular outcomes, such as a 4.6% drop in high blood pressure in Germany and an 11% reduction in cardiovascular deaths in Japan.

The authors conceded that other effects like congestion, residents’ well-being, or long-term health were not considered but acknowledged these could bolster arguments for such schemes. Dr. Anthony Laverty, Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London, highlighted the complexity of measuring health outcomes resulting from interventions like LEZs.

While acknowledging the challenges, Laverty emphasized the direct health benefits from LEZs and CCZs, including diminished cardiovascular diseases and traffic injuries. Most congestion charging zone evidence concentrated on London, revealing an overall decrease in road traffic injuries, primarily car-related, after CCZ implementation.

One report indicated that implementing a congestion charge zone in London led to a 5.3% reduction in total car incidents. However, the same study observed potential rises in minor bicycle-related injuries, as well as motorcycle-related injuries and fatalities, following the introduction of the London CCZ.

The research findings were published in Lancet Public Health.

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