Do electric vehicles pay a congestion charge?

electric vehicles and congestion charges

You’ve heard the rumours – electric cars get to zoom through London’s congestion charge zone completely free! Well, hold your horses because there’s some red tape to wade through.

The reality is electric car owners face a nasty £160 slap on the wrist (reduced to £80 if paid quickly) for waltzing into central London without registering for the Cleaner Vehicle Discount. Ouch!

“But don’t electric cars get exempted?” Well yes, but not without you making it happen. Here’s the inside scoop on how it really works…

Registering your EV for the London Congestion Charge

Before hitting the road, electric car owners must log into Transport for London’s website and register for a Cleaner Vehicle Discount (this used to be called Ultra-Low Emissions Discount).

TfL wants images of your V5C logbook as proof it’s fully electric. Seems they can’t just cross-check themselves despite having all the data.

Tourists – you’re in for some bureaucracy. TfL wants pics of your foreign registration documents clearly showing ‘Battery Electric’ or ‘Hydrogen Fuel Cell’. No smartphone? Then you’ll need to post or email copies later.

The £10 Annual Registration Fee

Here’s the killer – registration costs a tenner every year and you’ll need to cough up for each electric car you own.

This annual chore continues until late 2025 when TfL starts making EV owners pay to drive in London too. As petrol and diesel cars dwindle, so does their tax income. For London’s electric motorists, the cost pressure grows.

Other UK Cities With Congestion Charges

London’s not alone in congestion charges. You will also find them in:

  • Bath
  • Birmingham
  • Bradford
  • Bristol
  • Greater Manchester (under review)
  • Portsmouth

You can use this website to check if you have to pay a charge.

If you live in Scotland, Aberdeen and Dundee both have Low Emission Zones coming into enforcement in 2024. Edinburgh follows in June, with Glasgow a year later. Scottish EV drivers – watch this space!

Is ULEZ the same as congestion charge?

ULEZ is a separate scheme to the congestion charge but covers the same area as the Congestion Charge Zone. ULEZ incurs a separate daily charge if vehicles do not meet the required Euro emissions standards.

What about ULEZ?

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London operates 24/7, 365 days a year. The only exception is that it is suspended on Christmas Day, December 25th.

Vehicles that do not meet the ULEZ emissions standards and are not exempt must pay a daily charge of £12.50 to drive within the zone. The ULEZ charge applies to cars, motorcycles, vans, specialist vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes, and minibuses up to 5 tonnes.

What about LEZ?

Note that Lorries, vans, and specialist heavy vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, as well as buses, minibuses, and coaches over 5 tonnes, do not need to pay the ULEZ charge. However, they will need to pay the LEZ daily charge of £100 if they do not meet the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) emissions standards.

The Congestion Charge is separate to LEZ and ULEZ and operates from 7am to 6pm Monday to Friday. On weekends and bank holidays, it operates from 12pm to 6pm. There is no Congestion Charge between Christmas Day and the New Year’s Day bank holiday (inclusive).

ULEZ expansion 2023

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is expanding across all London boroughs starting 29 August 2023 to combat London’s poor air quality.

The ULEZ daily charge will be £12.50 for non-compliant vehicles driving anywhere in the zone. Most cars already meet the standards. Check your vehicle’s status on the ULEZ vehicle checker. Residents must pay the charge to drive in the zone, but not just to park.

Financial assistance is available to scrap or retrofit non-compliant vehicles via the Mayor’s £110m scrappage scheme for those receiving certain benefits or small businesses/charities.

Exclusive ULEZ support offers are also available. Discounts and exemptions have been extended to help disabled people and community transport switch to compliant vehicles. Changes include removing the £10 Auto Pay fee and raising the penalty charge for non-payment from £160 to £180.

How about Clean Air Zones?

Congestion charges aren’t the only thing to think about because some cities across the UK are launching Clean Air Zones (known as a CAZ) to combat air pollution. These are similar to London’s ULEZ scheme.

In a CAZ area, local authorities have introduced vehicle restriction measures to improve air quality. Initially CAZs targeted buses, taxis, and HGVs, but many now affect private vehicles too – meaning regular motorists may face charges, not just commercial operators.

CAZs aim to address air pollution locally as part of the government’s national Air Quality Plan. There are two types:

  • No-fee CAZs improve air without fees, through retrofitting vehicles, rerouting traffic, and other local solutions.
  • Fee CAZs require drivers to pay a fee to enter if their vehicle doesn’t meet emissions standards. Fees are based on Euro emissions ratings.

There are four CAZ classes – A, B, C, and D – aligned with the London ULEZ standards. Local authorities choose the class when implementing a CAZ under the national framework.

So in addition to registering for congestion charges, electric vehicle owners in cities with CAZs will need to check if their cars meet the emissions requirements or if they’ll have to pay fees.

With the push for cleaner air nationwide, EV drivers can expect more low emission zones coming soon.

The moral of the story? Ensure your electric vehicle is registered and eligible or risk a fine for waltzing into cities with congestion charges.

What about petrol and diesel cars?

If you drive into a congestion charge zone in a vehicle that is not registered for the Cleaner Vehicle Discount, such as a petrol or diesel car, the cost is £15 if paid on the day of travel. The fee rises to £17.50 if payment is made 1-3 days after the day of travel. Vehicles eligible for discounts include:

  • Residents living within the Congestion Charge zone receive a 90% discount.
  • Registered blue badge holders travel free of charge.
  • Motorbikes are exempt from the charge.
  • Electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are exempt (see above).

The penalty for non-payment is a £160 fine.

Hopefully this article clears everything up about congestion charges and electric vehicles. If you have any questions, fire away below.

James Lewis is our resident electrical head. He drives an MG ZS EV (2018, which he loves) and plans to get the new one soon. James is much more excited by the lower end of the EV market and is looking forward to the Ora Cat.