Emissions charging is cleaning up our roads, but the guidelines on charging seem imbalanced. Why are motorbikes being run off the road?

I’m a huge fan of motorbikes. Take a look in my garage and you’ll see that I love anything from old café racers to touring bikes, to scooters. It’s not just the ‘cool factor’ of riding on two wheels that appeals – they’re cheap to run, easy to maintain and they can cut journey times to a fraction compared to travelling by car. With all this in mind, the recently introduced charging system for London’s new ULEZ beggars belief.

Under the new set-up, installed earlier this year by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, many motorbikes were rendered as good as obsolete thanks to the £12.50 daily levy that now applies to bikes manufactured before 2007, or those not complying with Euro 3 emissions standards. This fee extends to bikes of any engine size, from 50cc scooters to the larger engine bikes. Road users who may have once used a scooter for the daily commute now face a charge of over £50 per week just to ride into the centre of London on a daily basis.

While motorcycles are still exempt from the Congestion Charge, introduced in 2003, the ULEZ charging scheme is unprecedented in its two-wheeled fee structure. Bikers have long enjoyed a more cost-effective means of travel, compared to driving a car. Parking is often free, fuel consumption extremely frugal, road tax reduced and insurance premiums rarely in triple figures. It is this £12.50 fee that has led to many riders having to upgrade to an expensive newer bike, plan long detours to avoid the ULEZ zone or give up riding altogether.

Perhaps what sticks in the throat most is the blanket ban on all bikes made before 2007. Those who ride a barely polluting 50cc scooter can feel particularly aggrieved, while owners of bigger bikes will still be hard done by. Start to compare this to cars, which have to comply with Euro 4 standards to be exempt from the ULEZ fee, and it comes to light that a small 50cc scooter made in 2006 (producing under 50 CO2 g/km, producing close to 150mpg) will have to pay the charge, but a newer sports car – running a 5.0-litre V8, good for 15mpg – is exempt. Emissions aside, bikes cut city traffic, cars contribute towards it. How can we even begin to see this as fair?

In the big city, we recognise that space is at a premium on our roads. We acknowledge that the only way we can reduce traffic jams on our roads is to cut the number of cars that travel on it. Charging cars to drive in central London is only fair, but demanding money from every road user is not the answer. Motorbikes are part of the solution, not the problem. Can you imagine how traffic-free the city would be if every road user left their car at home?

Written by Henry Willis


Twitter: @hpgwillis