Late-night workers speak out on ‘brutal’ ULEZ charges

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

'Grossly unfair': DJs hit by double ULEZ charge each shift (Credit: Getty/ Gennadiy Kravchenko)
'Grossly unfair': DJs hit by double ULEZ charge each shift (Credit: Getty/ Gennadiy Kravchenko)

Related tags Legislation London Night Time Industries Association

DJs have shared stories of missed work opportunities and eye-watering charges due to the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which has now expanded to include all of London’s boroughs.

The scheme means drivers must pay a £12.50 charge to drive a non-compliant vehicle anywhere in the zone.

This must be paid online or by phone up to three days after travelling with a penalty for not paying, reaching up to £180.

Non-compliant vehicle owners, whose shifts cross over the midnight threshold, will be charged twice – both for the 24-hour period pre- and post-midnight.

One DJ from Brighton, East Sussex, said ULEZ charges were a “real inconvenience” that put up barriers for people working at night in and around London.

Toni Tambourine works as a resident DJ at Infernos club in Clapham, south London.​ For his shifts, he drives into London, bringing heavy, expensive equipment.

He used to be able to drive straight to the venue, with his shift starting at 10pm, and then unload straight into his car at 4am and head home.

But now, working over the midnight threshold makes him liable to pay two charges. This means he must pay 48 hours’ worth of ULEZ fees at each shift, even though he’s only there for around six to seven hours.

'It's pretty brutal'

This equates to more than 10% of his earnings at £25 per shift. For the DJ this felt like a second tax.

He believes this is “grossly unfair”.

Due to this charge, he has had to start parking along the borders of the ULEZ barrier and carrying in his equipment. However, he said this was “laborious”, and carrying thousands of pounds of equipment on public transport made him feel vulnerable.

He also believed this meant night workers​ are being penalised, as day workers did not have to pay the double charge.

While the DJ understood that changing his van to a ULEZ-compliant vehicle would solve the issue, this was something he could not afford. As his shifts finish in the early hours of the morning, getting the train to London is also not an option.

He has previously had to turn down gigs in Shoreditch due to the combined cost of ULEZ and parking tariffs.

“It’s pretty brutal,” he added.

Midnight threshold 'poorly conceived'

The Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA) slammed the scheme,​ which expanded yesterday (Tuesday 29 August), for its “poorly conceived midnight threshold”, as well as the removal of the day travel passes, which “underscores a shocking lack of consideration for the city’s workforce”.

This followed research​ from the trade body early in the summer, which revealed 36,990 night workers were at risk of being charged twice in one shift under the scheme.

Another DJ​ based in Harlow, Essex, warned the expansion of the ULEZ scheme would pose a “big problem”.

Marcin Dziewięcki now owns a ULEZ-compliant vehicle, but he hasn’t always been so lucky. He had previously had to hike the fee of his DJ service from £200 to £250 to cover the cost of the ULEZ charge.

Sometimes this lost him work as customers would try and find someone cheaper. Now, he is able to book 30% more gigs as owning a ULEZ-compliant vehicle means he can lower the price of his sets again.

He believed the cost of the ULEZ fee to be “ridiculous” as it is way too high.

Double whammy

The NTIA stated while it acknowledged the significance of embracing environmental sustainability, the measures fail to strike a reasonable equilibrium between ecological concerns and the safety and vitality of the workforce and economy.

NTIA chief executive Michael Kill​ said: “The midnight threshold unfairly condemns countless night workers who are unable to afford compliant vehicles to a double whammy of charges as they diligently fulfil their duties during unconventional hours.

“It also brings into question how many night workers are paying double when public transport is limited due to industrial chaos."

He added: “This long-standing issue will be further compounded by further policy changes, which will see parking fines increase and the imposition of outrageous charges for using the Blackwall Tunnel.

For Kill, these unjustified financial impositions, coupled with the impending removal of the day travel pass in January, are "unmistakeable signals" that London’s authorities are turning their back on the very essence of accessibility, safety and inclusivity.

Mayor's decision

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London​ said: "London has made significant progress in recent years in improving air quality, but it sadly remains the case that around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to toxic air.   

 “The Mayor recognises the importance of London’s night-time workers. Many will not drive to work and for those who do, nine out of ten cars seen driving in outer London on an average day meet the ULEZ standards meaning their drivers will not have to pay the charge.

"To help those affected, mitigations including night bus and Tube services are in place and every Londoner with an eligible non-compliant car or motorcycle can now apply for the scrappage scheme, including shift workers who were previously ineligible for financial support.  

“The impact of the London-wide ULEZ on shift workers was covered in the independent Integrated Impact Assessment which the Mayor considered before making his decision.” 

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