Birmingham Clean Air Zone sign on the road showing the Class D category


5 mins

How have Clean Air Zones impacted drivers across the UK?

December 11, 2023

Clean Air Zones have taken their toll on drivers in Birmingham and London, and the stats are eye-watering. Birmingham and London are Class D zones, affecting all drivers of non-compliant vehicles, not just commercial ones. This means that the number of drivers liable to pay the charge are much higher than in other Class C or Class B Clean Air Zone (CAZ) cities like Portsmouth or Bath. However, separate to the number of drivers paying the daily CAZ charge, thousands of drivers have been hit with hefty fines reaching as high as £160.

We know that cleaner air has a price, but to what extent? And where does Caura fit into all of this?

Why does Birmingham need a Clean Air Zone?

Before the CAZ was introduced in 2021, the concentration of nitrogen dioxide in Birmingham’s air was up to 50% higher than it should be. It was also estimated that air pollution was the cause of around 900 deaths per year in Birmingham alone [1]. To reduce the level of harmful pollutants in the air in the shortest amount of time, the Birmingham Clean Air Zone was introduced to protect the health of the city’s residents.

Around 500,000 fines have been dished out by Birmingham City Council in 2022

As the second UK city to launch a Clean Air Zone, the goal of the Birmingham CAZ was to reduce harmful emissions in the city and drive sustainable behavioural changes when it comes to how people choose to travel, and it’s working. Vehicles that meet the minimum emissions standards (so don’t need to pay the CAZ charge) have increased in the city centre since the CAZ went live, increasing from 79.8% at the beginning of June 2021 to 88.8% at the end of December 2021. [2]

So, if there are more vehicles that don't need to pay the CAZ charge driving into the zone, why is the number of fines issued so high?

Many blame this on poor communication from the council, slow payment websites, and ineffective signposting of the zone. Still to date, around 1,600 Clean Air Zone fines are being issued daily to drivers in Birmingham. [3]

"I didn't see any signs. If I did it was just a sign of a cloud and I didn't know what that meant. I'm using Google Maps and that's not telling me anything. I'm concentrating on the traffic and the sat-nav." – Gemma Simm, visitor travelling to Birmingham from Leicestershire. [4]

Gemma owes over £300 in fines to the council for failing to make Birmingham Clean Air Zone payments, and Gemma isn’t the only one. Around 470,000 fines were issued in Birmingham in just the first 8 months of the CAZ, generating the council a revenue of nearly £20 million from the zone – way above the forecasted £13.2 million. [5]

Expanded ULEZ costs drivers of non-compliant vehicles almost £100m

This isn’t, however, just a Birmingham problem! London was the first city to introduce emission zones to reduce the number of harmful pollutants in the city. Currently, there are three active emission charges in London: Congestion charge, Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) & Low Emission Zone (LEZ).

The London ULEZ was first introduced in 2019 covering only Central London but was later expanded to (but not including) the North Circular (A406) and South Circular (A205) roads. Since the ULEZ expansion in 2021, it is estimated that drivers of non-compliant vehicles have paid nearly £100 million to TfL in emission charges. [6].

The expanded zone resulted in the rate of vehicle's meeting the emission standards fall from 13.1% to 6.9% [7], and in the first eight months alone, an estimated 1.6 million PCNs were issued, compared to just 253,357 in the eight months prior to the boundary changes. [8]

Earlier this year, TfL announced a potential further expansion of the ULEZ from August 2023 that will cover all of London’s 33 boroughs, including parts of the M1 and M4 motorways (but not the M25). If these plans go ahead, it’s estimated that the 135,000 drivers will be liable to pay the £12.50 charge, leaving more drivers liable to massive fines. [9]

RAC Head of Roads Policy Nicholas Lyes said: “While we accept that action is needed to reduce toxic emissions from vehicles, the cost-of-living crisis is hurting drivers in the pocket and there is a risk that further enlarging the zone will be hugely costly for those with older vehicles who can least afford to change them for something newer”. [10]

What’s the next big Clean Air Zone that’s coming?

On 28th November 2022, Bristol is introducing a category D Clean Air Zone which means that drivers of all non-compliant vehicles entering the zone, of which there are an estimated of 75,000 per day [11] in Bristol, will need to pay a £9 daily fee.

Based on what we’ve seen happen to drivers in London and Birmingham, and the confusion around all the temporary exemptions in place for the Bristol CAZ, it is likely that many drivers in Bristol will also be stung by Clean Air Zone fines.

Where does Caura fit into all of this?

Paying for ULEZ and CAZ charges via fiddly website forms that require you to fill out 15+ steps means that drivers are likely to wait till they get home to pay the charge, that is if they remember to.

Caura eliminates this tedious process, and allows you to pay for all emission charges, roads, and toll charges in a matter of seconds. Two taps and you’re done. Making payments in an app on your phone whilst you’re on the go also means you’re less likely to forget. Wave goodbye to ever receiving another PCN

Caura app banner showing Clean Air Zones sorted in two taps. Shows the Bristol CAZ charge in Caura, along with other CAZ charges, and also shows the payment success screen for a successful Bristol CAZ charge payment in Caura

To get started, download Caura for free and enter the vehicle reg plate of your car. If you have more than one vehicle, you can add them all to the same account. When you tap ‘City Charges’, you will be able to see whether your vehicle is exempt from any charges. If your vehicle is not exempt, select the charge and date you wish to pay, and then pay using Apple Pay, Google Pay, credit or debit card.

When you pay for an emissions charge in Caura, the money is directly sent to the end charge provider (TfL in London, Birmingham City Council in Birmingham). If you ever do need your payment receipt, you can find them all stored in-app under the ‘History’ tab. From there, you can even export receipts straight to your email.

We want to help all drivers avoid ever having to pay a PCN again. Know friends and family affected by emission charges? Invite them to Caura by sharing your referral code and both of you could earn £50 off your next insurance policy!













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