London Still Slowest Driving City Despite Clean-Air Zone

ULEZ regulations are not helping U.K. capital's commuters, TomTom's latest global survey claims.

Paul Myles, European Editor

April 9, 2024

3 Min Read
London Traffic
London still grid-locked despite clean-air regulation.

London’s push for clean-air regulation has had no affect on traffic congestion and has even seen an increase in greenhouse gas emissions with diesel powertrains especially targeted.

Mapping specialist TomTom’s latest global Traffic Index points out that the U.K.’s capital city remains the most strangled by traffic congestion in the world, thereby increasing vehicle emissions, while commuters in many U.S. cities enjoy a much quicker journey into the work.

The report uses a typical 10-km (6.2-mile) trip through a city as a guide to traffic congestion. Despite London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) crackdown on aging gasoline cars and the not-so-old diesel equivalents, targeted because of clean-air particulate concerns, the average time for the journey in 2023 was 37 minutes and 20 seconds. This is one minute more than in 2022 and nearly two minutes more than in 2021, indicating a slow but steady return to the pre-pandemic trend of consistently increasing traffic.

The situation for the average driver who makes the commute in the morning and again in the evening, at peak times, is worse still. These drivers spend one hour and 28 minutes in traffic every day, losing about 38 minutes each day to the extra traffic that comes with the rush hour.

While the report ignores the difference between gasoline and diesel powertrains, the increased proportion of gasoline cars on London roads, following ULEZ’s banning of many diesels that have lower CO2 emissions, have, naturally, seen a spike in this greenhouse gas emissions with gasoline vehicles emitting 3.56 tons of CO2 per 10,000 miles driven in 2023, an increase of 1.5% year-on-year.

Meanwhile, American cities buck the trend and fare much better with commuters in cities like Dayton and Akron, OH, and even Albany and Syracuse, NY, losing comparatively little time to traffic. Organizing the Traffic Index data by lowest travel times, the report sees many other cities, including Detroit, MI, Memphis, TN, St. Louis, MO., Tulsa, OK, Cincinnati, OH and Buffalo, NY.

On average, it takes just 10 minutes to travel 6.2 miles across these cities with traffic and about 8 minutes and 30 seconds in optimal conditions. What’s important to note is that all these cities have large highways running straight through them, the average speeds in all these American cities are over 37 mph (60 km). The report notes that, of course, this kind of infrastructure is a uniquely modern invention and simply wouldn’t fit in ancient cities like London and other European cities. Also, while it might lead to lower travel times, whether it creates an equitable and livable city is another question entirely.

The report also draws a comparison between London and Amsterdam that share many common issues such as ancient road infrastructure and a lack of space. Yet, a commuter in the Dutch capital takes just 17 minutes and 10 seconds on average, with drivers losing just 4 minutes and 21 seconds because of traffic.

While London is dominated by car traffic, Amsterdam is famous for bicycle use largely thanks to its excellent cycling infrastructure, which includes segregated cycle lanes, bike parking and a legislative hierarchy that protects the most vulnerable road users. It also has a robust public transit network and many pedestrian walkways and pedestrian zones. All this lightens the load on the roads and helps keep people moving regardless of their chosen mode of transport.

TomTom’s traffic expert, Andy Marchant, says: “Our analysis shows that five years on from the introduction of ULEZ, London remains the world’s slowest city to drive through. The capital’s fuel consumption and CO2 emissions inevitably increased at the same time. For public authorities, real-time data intelligence could help to ensure viable traffic flows and more efficient use of city infrastructure, supporting our transition to less diesel and gasoline consumption and more sustainable transportation.”

About the Author(s)

Paul Myles

European Editor, Informa Group

Paul Myles is an award-winning journalist based in Europe covering all aspects of the automotive industry. He has a wealth of experience in the field working at specialist, national and international levels.

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