Cities with congestion zones

Published 2021-10-01 12:08:49
Congestion Charge & ULEZ sign in London - Credit: Google Map

Major cities like London, Paris, Milan and Copenhagen have instituted a variety of urban vehicle access regulations and fees for using motor vehicles in specified, densely populated areas in an effort to minimise vehicular traffic congestion and the toxic fumes they emit.

It is now very expensive to drive your car in those designated areas, even newer ones with lower emissions. This encourages people to use public transport and entices car manufacturers to design lower-emission or even electric/hybrid engines.



London's congestion charge was set-up in 2001 and cost was originally £5. Suspended during the pandemic, it was recently reinstated. was reinstated recently. This charge is applied to almost all vehicles that enter the restricted zone.

The charges are £15 per day between 7 am and 10 pm if you pay in advance or on the day of travel. However, the rate increases to £17.50 if it is paid afterwards. It includes weekends and holidays except Christmas. Payment can be made conveniently via online means.

The congestion zone covers some popular areas like: St. James's, St. Pancras, Euston, Barbican, Waterloo, Covent Garden, Charing Cross, London Bridge, Holborn, Finsbury, Bloomsbury, Soho, Mayfair, Westminster, Parts of Marylebone, Lambeth, amongst others.

How will you know when you are entering a congestion zone?

It is clearly marked by the letter C in a red circle.

What happens if you don't pay?

You will receive a Penalty Charge Notice for £160 and be expected to settle this amount in the 28 days that follow. There is a 50% discount if you pay within two weeks.

What about if you live in a congestion zone, are disabled or ride a moped?

Residents living in a congestion zone must register as a resident to qualify for a 90% discount. Disabled drivers with a Blue Badge (parking scheme for disabled drivers in the UK) qualify for a full discount and pay no congestion charges but they must be registered with the Transport Department for London. Disabled drivers that pay no road tax are also exempt.

Bicycles, mopeds or motorbikes also pay no charges. Some electric and hybrid passenger vehicles can apply for a Cleaner Vehicle Discount.

Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)

In a bid to further improve the air quality in London, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charge has also come into effect. It covers an area slightly larger than the Congestion Charge Zone but this affects only some high polluting vehicles that are not compliant with the Euro 6 standards for exhaust emissions. The vehicles affected are generally pre-Euro 6 diesel vehicles (manufactured around 2016) and pre-Euro 4 petrol vehicles  (manufactured around 2006).

Euro 6 are a set of regulations controlling the level of acceptable emissions from vehicles. There are different emissions standards for petrol and diesel cars because each fuel produces different air pollutants.

At present, the daily charge for non-compliant vehicles is £12.50 for vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes and £100 for heavier vehicles over 3.5 tonnes.

Low Emission Zone (LEZ) charge applies to older heavy vehicles such as lorries, vans and coaches. Since March 2021, the emission standards for LEZ and ULEZ are almost similar but the area covered and charges differ.


There is no congestion charge in Paris to enter the city, but Paris has four environmental zones each with its own criteria and charges. They differ by being permanent (ZFE) or temporary (ZPA) zones.

  1. The ZPA zones protect air quality and depends on certain weather conditions, and the levels of air pollutants. Vehicles without the requisite French environmental sticker are unable to enter this zone during the designated period of high air pollution. Any contravention to this ruling can cost you between  €68-375. The change to the zoning is usually declared in the afternoon or evening for the next day when the traffic ban applies. After the air pollution peak has subsided, the temporary ban is lifted.
  2. The ZFE zones (Zone à Faibles Émissions) are clearly demarcated by signs. Each local authority/muncipality can apply to rezone an area to ZFE and enforce it. The ZFE Paris is located within the ZPA of Greater Paris. You are required to purchase a sticker which will determine the days and times you can enter a specific zone. Fines can range from 68-450 €.
  3. Environmental zone Paris A86 (inside) ZFE and Environmental zone Paris A86 (outside) ZFE were both instituted in 2015. The A86 refer to the highway that spans most of the affected areas covered by the vehicle ban. They are permanent traffic restrictions between 08:00 am to 08:00 pm daily for motorised traffic without the correct stickers. If you break the law you will be expected to pay fines that range from  €68-450.

Note that there are other cities in France that have established ZFE, such as Grenoble and Lyon for example. Other projects are underway for Lille and Strasbourg.


Milan is one of Italy's busiest cities. The ECOPASS scheme was implemented in 2008. This was a restriction imposed on highly polluting vehicles entering the city centre. It also hoped to encourage motorists to use public transport to decrease congestion or make the switch to lower emission vehicles to decrease air pollution. However, it only succeeded in encouraging motorists to use newer, cleaner vehicles so the congestion issue was not resolved. 

Area C - a congestion zone

In June 2011 the ECOPASS was replaced with a more thorough scheme to reduce congestion, known as “Area C”, which covers an 8.2 km² zone.

The daily cost is €5 per day for road users entering the city centre between 7.30am and 7.30pm. If you are resident in the city centre your first 40 entries into the zone are free and you pay a reduced fee of €2 per entry thereafter. There are no charges for electric and hybrid cars. Motorists can easily purchase a ticket from a meter or various retail outlets, or the Italian electronic Telepass system, which is an automatic payment for motorway tolls.

The scheme is sympathetic to shops in the city centre, e.g. on Thursdays the charging period is shorter so shoppers can take advantage of late shopping.

This scheme has successfully reduced traffic in the designated areas and decreased pollution by over one third. The revenues generated have been invested in public transport and other mobility-related infrastructure, like bicycle sharing schemes.  


The congestion charge was implemented in 2008 and is applicable for all hours, every day with no exceptions. The start and end of the environmental zones are clearly marked with a red circle and the words "environmental zone" (Miljøzone) at the bottom.

There are exceptions for medical personnel, disabled vehicles, fire brigade, military, police, etc.

All vehicles require a valid sticker (see Registration Denmark ) to enter the low emission zone. Fines payable can be up to €1,700 if you break the rules.

Other cities in the World


This city started to curb inner-city traffic congestion as early as 1975 by introducing the Area Licensing Scheme (ALS).

It encouraged carpooling into demarcated areas of the city during peak times by charging a flat fee of US$1 per car if the number of occupants was 2 or less. Cars with more than 3 occupants and certain heavy vehicles were exempt. Any rule violations were expensive.

The sticker system is still operational and strictly enforced using cameras.

San Diego

The US city has a variation to the congestion zones levy. This city has implemented a freeway tolling system where motorists who have paid the special fee of US$8 can use express lanes to avoid gridlock on the regular lanes.

However, critics claim this only serves to favour wealthier people who can afford it.

New York

The recent political upheaval in this city may delay the implementation of its congestion tax which was supposed to fund upgrades in the city's public transport system.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

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