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TfL in chaos over ULEZ motorcycle exemptions

In a five-minute telephone call recorded by a Biker & Bike reader, Transport for London proves it has failed to set up a properly functioning system for dealing with low-polluting motorcycles.

A Biker & Bike reader sent us a recording of a telephone call with Transport for London when he tried to get clarification on whether his motorcycle was now exempt from the ULEZ charge of £12.50. The full transcript of the conversation appears in full after this article.

During the call it becomes clear there are holes in Transport for London’s ULEZ system, specifically the DVLA – on who TfL are relying upon for data – are not updating their databases quickly enough. Worse, when TfL know a motorcycle is exempt, they are not telling DVLA so the databases can be updated, either.

It also appears that TfL uses a different database to administer the ULEZ charge itself. The Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), which has been working tirelessly to get both concessions and a total exemption for all motorcycles said in a release, ‘In our meeting with TfL on 21st March, they confirmed that the database for the online checker has not, and will not be updated. They claim that there is a separate database used to administer the charge and fines that is being updated with individually exempted pre-Euro 3 bikes. Naturally we have no way of checking this claim.’


To add insult to injury, TfL is not releasing details of the models and years of motorcycles that clearly conform to their requirements. If they did, other motorcyclists would not have to go to the time and expense of going through the same process. A simple online database would save TfL hundreds of man hours currently wasted on phone calls like the one detailed here, less wasteful paperwork would be generated, and fewer still valuable motorcycle would not be sold by motorcyclists who do not realise their bike could be exempt.

In the absence of an official database, Biker & Biker has issued a list of older, pre-Euro 3 motorcycles that have won exemption from ULEZ charges either by submitting documentation or, when that is not an option, to undergo an emissions test. You can see the list here.

Read: the 34-year-old RD350 that passed the NOx test with a stunningly low reading.

Broken system

In common with many other London motorcyclists, Dougie Dickson went through the process of getting a Certificate of Conformity for his bike, but when he understandably checked with TfL’s own system for confirming his exemption, he discovered the bike was not exempt after all.

From correspondence to us and comments we have seen online, it is clear that dozens if not hundreds of London bikers are suffering the same fate as Dougie – they have gone through the process of getting an exemption, they may have even received an email confirming the exemption, but TfL’s ULEZ checker isn’t being updated with the information.

We also know that some motorcyclists have been issued with penalty charges even when they have got an exemption, only to have the charge cancelled when challenged.

The call that shows the ULEZ system isn’t working properly

The full transcript of the conversation, in which the Transport for London call centre operator hangs up on the motorcyclist once she knows the call is being recorded:

TFL: Good morning, thank you for calling Transport for London you’re speaking to Christine how can I help?

Biker: Hi Christine, can I give you a reference number?

TFL: Certainly, Sir!

Biker: Right I’ve got TFL- 57…

TFL: Is it for an account?

Biker: Sorry?

TFL: Is it for an account?

Biker: No it’s about a ULEZ enquiry

TFL: Right you’re speaking to the wrong department sir, I’ll pop you through now

Biker: Thank you. This is the second time I’ve been put through to the wrong number


TFL: Good morning, you are through to Michelle at Transport for London, how can I help?

Biker: Hi dear, can I speak to you about ULEZ?

TFL: You can, yes

Biker: Can I give you a reference number?

TFL: I don’t deal with reference numbers

Biker: What is it you need? A registration number?

TFL: Yes please, yes

Biker: Right it’s Bravo, Mike, Zero, Four, Delta, Uniform Golf (BM04DUG)

TFL: Ok, is this still for BMW?

Biker: It is yes

TFL: Well you’re subject to the Ultra Low Emissions Zone when it comes into place

Biker: Right, this is what your VRM checker is telling me. But I’ve had an email from you because I’ve sent in a certificate of conformity from BMW back in January

TFL: Right

Biker: On the 24th January you replied with an email telling me that I’m exempt

TFL: Well then you’ll be fine, they haven’t updated the checker that’s why

Biker: What after 2 months?

TFL: Yes they’ve not updated it, they’ve not updated it for 6 months because there’s that many information that is coming through. So if you’ve got that letter stating that you have the exemption for the ULEZ, then it will happen for you when it comes into place.

Biker: So what about people that are using that VRM checker and it’s saying that their vehicles are ok and if it’s not updated then that’s gonna give them false information as well isn’t it?

TFL: Well then they would ring us, and we would discuss that with them
Biker: Well then what is the point of the VRM checker if you’re only updating it every 6 months?

TFL: The VRM checker is linked to the DVLA, so we can only update it when the DVLA gives us the relevant information

Biker: I don’t understand that dear, it’s still telling me here I’ve got to pay the charge, and you’ve told me yourself I’ve got to pay the charge, but I’ve got an email from TFL telling me no.

TFL: Because when you sent in the relevant information to update them they have not updated it due to the information…

Biker: Who?

TFL: You will get that letter of conformity and the information from Transport For London is then sent to you, and I told you it will then be added on to their list.

Biker: Who, DVLA’s list?

TFL: No Transport for London’s list

Biker: But you mentioned DVLA to me with the checker, that’s what I don’t understand.

TFL: Right we get the information from DVLA, the DVLA so on your logbook will state that your vehicle is below the Euro Standard, this is what you can expect from your conformity.

Biker: But it doesn’t tell me I’m a V5 Logbook at all, this is why I have to go to BMW.

TFL: Well that will be why then

Biker: Well what, why then?

TFL: If you’ve got no emission standards on your logbook, that will be why you had to send in your conformity

Biker: But this is a misinformation from TFL, they’re telling people on your website to check your V5 right, motorbikes do not have emissions standards on the V5. TFL should know that, so what we have to do then.

TFL: Well we are aware of that, that’s why you have to send in the conformity and get it from the actual manufacturer

Biker: Ha ha ha, but you’ve just told me as well to check my logbook. You know what I mean?

TFL: Well I didn’t know your vehicle was a motorbike so that’s why that is the information we go through. This is the automated information we go through for you to check. You’ve already told me your vehicle is compliant and it’s happy so is there any reason to continue with this call?

Biker: Well yeah, I want to know why the VRM checker has not been updated.

TFL: Because it’s not getting updated, because they’re not going to update it before it goes into place on the 8th April. If you have a problem with that you would make that complaint online because it’s the back office that deals with this and it’s the head office that updates the information.

Biker: So they’re not gonna update it until the 8th April just to be clear?

TFL: Yes, they’re not going to update it at all.

Biker: They’re not going to update it at all?

TFL: Sir as far as I’m aware the information will not be updated…

Biker: Until what, the 8th April?

TFL: Because this is… there is no date at all, they’ve not given us a date when they’re gonna update it.

Biker: You told me earlier they’re gonna update it on the 8th April.

TFL: I never said they’re gonna update it on the 8th April.

Biker: Right well I can play it back if you like, I’m recording this.

TFL: Are you recording it? Well ok then I’m ending the call then, bye bye.

Biker: Ok then….. Interesting

With that, the call ended, the Biker & Bike reader being no wiser about the status of his bike’s exemption than before the call.

Transport for London should exempt motorcycles

Well done, TfL…

Top marks for producing a toxic charge on motorbikes – vehicles that could actually help reduce pollutions if more people switched out of their cars.

Top marks too for realising most motorcycles, even pre-Euro 3 ones, might actually pass your own test (of a NOx limit of 0.15 g/km) but not having a system capable of capturing this data so that owners know for sure they aren’t going to get a fine every time they ride their bikes within the ULEZ zone.

There’s an easy way to look less incompetent, Transport for London, and that’s to stop the war on motorcycles and finally admit we are part of the solution, not the problem, when it comes to London’s chronic pollution.

More help with ULEZ for motorcycles

If you are unsure of the ULEZ rules for motorcycles click here.
If you need to know more about exemptions from ULEZ charges click here.

Have you gained an exemption too?

Biker & Bike is currently compiling a list of pre-Euro 3 motorcycles that have gained exemption from ULEZ.

If you have gained exemption for a motorcycle that is not on the list please let us know by sending an email to editorial @ (removing the spaces either side of the @), using the subject line: ULEZ exempt motorcycle. Please tell us:

The model
The year of registration
The method (Certificate of Conformity, V5C [logbook] or NOx test)
The measured NOx reading, if known

Getting the list out there gives other owners the confidence to get their own bikes exempted. As we all know, motorcycles shouldn’t need to have to pay a pollution charge in the first place – bikes help reduce pollution. If more people used powered two-wheelers instead of cars and cabs we might not need ULEZ in the first place.

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