Oxford Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) frequently asked questions

Why are you proposing a Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) in Oxford?

Air pollution contributes to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia. Outdoor air pollution shortens up to 36,000 lives every year in the UK.

The European Union requires national governments to keep annual average NO2 levels across their countries to below 40μg/m3. Despite a 42.9 per cent reduction in NO2 levels across Oxford in the last decade, parts of the city centre are still failing to meet this legal limit and health experts have warned that there is no safe level for NO2.

Analysis of air quality data for 2018 show that the majority of monitoring sites in Oxford continue to improve. However, the results also show that the rate at which these reductions are taking place seems to have slowed down in comparison with the previous monitoring year, and that in some areas of the city, air pollution appears to have plateaued.

Oxford City Council has a legal duty to monitor the air quality within Oxford and a report is produced annually. See our latest Air Quality Annual Monitoring Report.

The majority of emissions and air pollution in the city centre are generated by motorised traffic. Moving to emission free transport solutions, through the introduction of a zero emission zone, is therefore the most effective solution to our air pollution problems.

Why are you proposing a charging scheme?

Following extensive feedback from stakeholders and further technical work it was clear that our previously proposed scheme based on parking and loading restrictions was unlikely to lead to the changes in behaviour and air quality which we are seeking to achieve. Furthermore, a charging scheme provides greater flexibility and can be adapted to cater for the needs of residents and businesses in the area using discounts and exemptions, and may generate some income which can be used to help residents, businesses and others switch to zero emission vehicles.

Charging schemes are being introduced across the county including Birmingham and Leeds and London already successfully operate charging schemes which have seen significant improvements in air pollution.

How have people been consulted?

Between 16 October and 26 November 2017 we held a public consultation on the council’s original proposals for the zone. In total, 755 individuals and businesses took part in the consultation. Although there was huge support for a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford, many concerns were raised. Following the public consultation, further discussions with affected organisations, businesses and individual were undertaken and this led the two councils to consider a different approach to the journey to zero emission transport in Oxford. In January 2019 we published further updated details of the proposals and feedback from stakeholders on these proposals has informed the current plans. We have also explored in more detail the legal implementation and enforcement aspects of the scheme. The feedback received on legal implementation and from stakeholders has informed the current plans.

Will the implementation of the ZEZ just spread air quality problems to the suburbs of Oxford?

It is expected that introducing even the early stages of the ZEZ will improve the quality of air within Oxford overall and beyond due to the restrictions on vehicles that can use the centre. Vehicles entering the city centre travel to other parts of the city and county, so the emissions benefits will extend significantly beyond the zone.

The ZEZ would expand to cover the whole city by 2035.

What will the impact of the revised ZEZ be on private vehicles?

The proposed 2020 zone would see entry into the zone charged for from 7am-7pm, for any vehicle (including private cars) which does not met our Zero Emission Vehicle Standard. Any Zero Emission Vehicles would be allowed free entry. We are proposing discounts for residents living in the zone, blue badge holders and vehicles registered to business within the zone.

When will I need to replace my car?

Government is planning to ban the production of all pollution emitting vehicles by 2040. In Oxford, under the current plan, private cars that are not zero emission are proposed to be charged for entry on all roads in the inner area of the city centre from December 2020 including Cornmarket Street, Queen Street, New Inn Hall Street, St Michael’s Street, Ship Street and Market Street from 7am to 7pm.

What happens to residents who live in the green zone and who don’t have a zero emission vehicle?

The next major stage of the ZEZ after the Red Zone would be the Green Zone in 2021/22, covering most of Oxford city centre.

This could involve a charging scheme with:

  • Daily charges for high emission vehicles -worse than Euro 6 diesel or Euro 4 petrol
  • A discounted daily charge for low emission vehicles –Euro 6 diesel, Euro 4 petrol or better
  • No charge for zero emission vehicles

There would be discounts available for residents’ cars, vans or motorcycles, providing a reasonable window to replace non-compliant vehicles.

How will tradespeople/utilities be able to access my business/property for emergency repairs?

In the Red Zone, the restriction would be part-time so access by a non-zero emission vehicle would be possible outside the restricted times. We also expect the industry to adapt in a similar way to the courier sector which has introduced business models based around the bike and low/zero emission vehicles. If people do have to enter the zone with a non-compliant vehicle, they will be able to pay a daily charge for access.

Will disabled drivers of vehicles that do not comply with the ZEZ be exempt?

It is recognised that people with disabilities have a greater need than others to use their cars to access the city centre. Therefore, it is proposed that blue badge holders will receive a 100% discount on entry into the zone up to at least 2024. This will allow time for drivers with disabilities to change their cars to compliant vehicles or make other travel arrangements to access the city centre.

Will the ZEZ cause alterations to bus routes / stops?

The ZEZ Red Zone will not affect bus routes or bus stops, but instead we are working with bus companies to update their fleet.

How will I receive deliveries to my business located within the Zone?

Through the previous public consultation and engagement with impacted businesses we have gathered information about the challenges associated with deliveries within the zone. This is one reason why we are now proposing a part-time Zero Emission Zone in 2020 from 7am to 7pm, and applying a charge for non-compliant vehicles rather than banning them completely. Deliveries in non-zero emission vehicles may be made free of charge outside of zone operating hours. If deliveries are made within these hours in a non-complaint vehicle a charge will be applied.

There are a number of zero emission delivery companies already operating in Oxford and it is anticipated this market will develop to accommodate deliveries within the zone.

If deliveries are undertaken in a vehicle registered to a business within the zone you a 100% discount on any charges will apply until 2024.

Will Emergency vehicles be banned from entering the zone if they are not zero emission?

Emergency vehicles will initially be exempt but this will be reviewed at a later date. We will work with emergency services to reduce emissions from their fleets.                                       

Will catering vans around Oxford be banned from the city centre?

Under current proposal all vehicles will be required to be zero emission in the city centre from 2020 during the hours when restrictions apply, to be allowed to enter for free. This would include catering vans.

Will motorbikes and mopeds be charged entry to the zone?

Yes, motorbikes and mopeds will be charged entry to the zone if they do not meet our criteria for Zero Emission Vehicle.
Under current proposals, vehicles which meet the government’s eligibility criteria for plug in vehicle grant will be allowed in the zone free of charge.

More information on the GOV.UK website.

How will the restrictions be legally implemented and enforced?

The Red Zone charging scheme would work in a similar way to the London congestion charge and ultra-low emission zone.

Signs would be installed around the perimeter of the zone and on the routes into the city to notify drivers of the ZEZ.

Drivers driving or parking in the zone during the charging hours would need to pay the required charge – or register for a discount:

  • Before entering the zone; OR
  • By midnight on the working day after entering the zone.

Payments and registrations would be accepted by a variety of methods; we expect the majority will do this online.

The zone would be enforced by enforcement cameras, using automatic number plate recognition technology. Taxi emission requirements are implemented through the city council’s taxi licensing powers and will be enforced by the city council.

The bus emission requirements will be implemented through the application of a Traffic Regulation Condition (TRC) to bus operators’ operating licences and enforced by the Traffic Commissioner.

Will hybrid vehicles be allowed in the ZEZ?

Under current proposals, vehicles which meet the government’s eligibility criteria for plug in vehicle grant will be allowed in the zone free of charge.

More information on the GOV.UK website.

What are the next steps for implementation?

Following the public engagement, any necessary changes will be made and a charging order will be drafted. This is expected to be consulted on in March 2020. The councils will then make decisions about whether or not to implement the scheme in spring 2020. If approved, the zone would come into effect on 1st Dec 2020.

Why are you proposing to include HGVs in the early stages, where you excluded them in previous proposals?

HGVs contribute 17% of emissions in the city centre while they only account for 5% of vehicle kilometres undertaken in the city centre. So while they only make up a small percentage of the traffic movements, their emissions are high.

While there are currently no zero emission alternatives to diesel HGVs it is possible to move some deliveries on to smaller zero emission transport modes. Oxford already has a number of zero emission delivery companies already operating and it is anticipated this market will develop to accommodate deliveries within the zone. Where it is not possible to undertake the deliveries in any other vehicle other than by HGV, deliveries must take place outside the hours where restrictions will apply in the city centre to be undertaken for free, or alternatively a charge will apply.

What is a “zero emission vehicle” for the purposes of this scheme?

Under current proposals, vehicles which meet the government’s eligibility criteria for plug in vehicle grant will be allowed in the zone free of charge. The criteria are:

Eligibility criteria for vehicles using ZEZ
Vehicle type Eligibility criteria


  • CO2 less than 50g/km
  • 70 miles zero emission range


  • CO2 0g/km


  • CO2 less than 75g/km
  • 10 miles zero emission range

Large vans, small trucks and heavy goods vehicles

  • CO2 at least 50% less than the equivalent conventional Euro VI vehicle of the same load capacity
  • 10 miles zero emission range

More information on the GOV.UK website.

Why does the green zone exclude some parts of the city centre?

The zone boundary needs to allow routes for non-compliant vehicles to turn safely and without blocking the road, which is why some streets are not included.

Why are you not requiring buses to be zero emission sooner?

Euro 6 buses have been found to reduce NO2 by 99.5%, which is why we have seen a significant improvement in air quality in recent years. The city is also due to have its first 100% electric double decker buses operating in the city in 2020. However moving the full bus fleet to zero emission operation requires significant infrastructure and vehicle investment, and the technology for intensive bus operation across a range of urban and inter-urban route lengths is not proven or affordable, so we are planning to implement a zero emission fleet in partnership with bus operators by 2035 at the latest, with an ambition to work together to achieve this by 2030 if possible.

I have heard that electric cars till contribute to pollution, so how will that help reduce air pollution?

An overview of the environmental benefits of zero emission vehicles has been provided on the Go Ultra Low website.

Will classic cars be restricted from entering Oxford under the proposals?

In line with London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, we are currently proposing an exemption for vehicles with historic tax classes (i.e. historic vehicles which qualify for vehicle tax exemption). Non-exempt vehicles will be allowed entry through payment of the charge if they are non-compliant.

How much income will the Red Zone charging scheme generate and what will it be spent on?

Through our online survey and by talking to people affected by the scheme, we will estimate how people will change their behaviour in response to the proposed charges. Until we’ve done this we won’t know how much the scheme will generate. The main purpose of the scheme is to encourage people to switch to compliant vehicles.

Income raised by the scheme must, by law, be used to improve local transport. The councils propose to use any income to support businesses and residents in the Red Zone in making the transition to zero emission transport.

Will non-compliant vehicles entering the Red Zone during the student move-in/out weekends be charged?

We recognise that short-term discounts or exemptions may be needed to deal with special access requirements such as this. These would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis as and when they arise.

Will you be increasing the number of bike racks in the Red Zone, to allow for more sustainable travel options?

The city council has funding to provide additional cycle racks in the Red Zone.

Will this push more traffic to outside of the zone, and the ring road?

The Red Zone does not include any through traffic routes; nearly all the traffic in the zone has a destination in the area, and traffic volumes are relatively low. We do not therefore expect any significant displaced traffic.

Will vehicles involved in scheduled maintenance work during the day such as road works, construction, and utility works be charged?

We recognise that short-term discounts or exemptions may be needed to deal with special access requirements such as this. These would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis as and when they arise.