Bristol Clean Air Zone: drivers call daily charges a ‘tax on working class people’ on first day of zone

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Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees calls the introduction an ‘incredible milestone’ while some drivers call it an unfair tax

Several motorists say they will boycott the city centre from today as Bristol City Council aims to reduce air pollution by charging older, more polluting vehicles for entering its Clean Air Zone (CAZ). Bristol mayor, Marvin Rees calls the pollution measure an “incredible milestone” for the city - though some drivers feel the zone is an unfair tax on Bristol’s poorest drivers.

On Monday (November 28), any non-compliant model driven within the designated area is required to pay a daily charge, up to six days after entering, ranging from £9 for taxis and personal cars to £100 for HGVs, buses and coaches. The council will send £120 Penalty Charge Notices, reduced to £60 if paid within two weeks, to people who drive non-compliant vehicles in the zone and do not pay the appropriate daily charge.

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On launch day, Marvin Rees said: “What an incredible milestone we’ve achieved today, launching Bristol’s Clean Air Zone to help create a city that is healthier for everyone to grow up, live and work in. No vehicles are banned from entering the central zone, and Bristol remains very much open to all residents, visitors and businesses, particularly as we look ahead to the busy Christmas period.

“We have always sought to reduce air pollution in Bristol to improve the city’s health, but we’re also mindful of the financial strain people are under at the moment. We have taken our time to find a way to clean up our air, while also providing support to those who need it most. Temporary exemptions and financial support are still available, and I urge people to check if they’re eligible.

I would encourage you to try out our bus, train and park and ride services as an alternative way to travel around Bristol, and we still have free vouchers available to help you give these options a go.”

This morning, Bristol World spoke with several drivers such as Louise as she arrived at Bedminster’s East Street Car Park, about as far as South Bristol stretches before the CAZ begins.

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She said: “The sentiment works for me but the rollout has just been a tax on working people. Bristol has great public transport options which could help improve air quality but they are not affordable or consistent enough for people to use. If you can drive, why would you risk waiting for two or three buses to not show up and being in trouble at work? We all pay taxes, drivers should not be bullied into paying more money to enter their city centre.”

Elsewhere, Kingswood resident, John Sargeant estimates he will have to cough up £2,250 each year or drive an extra 75 miles a week to complete his daily commute into Nailsea for work. Mr Sargeant drives a 15-year-old BMW which, despite passing its last MOT with flying colours, is deemed unfit for the Clean Air Zone. He had pledged to boycott Bristol’s city centre as a result of the zone.

Map of the Clean Air ZoneMap of the Clean Air Zone
Map of the Clean Air Zone

He told Bristol World: “It is very simple why I’m avoiding Bristol - I like many others see it (the CAZ) as a tax on the working class. Just look at its borders and it’s obvious that it has been designed to stop people crossing the city at every natural point. Apparently, my car is old and polluting but if I pay £9, all of a sudden, it becomes compliant. It screams public cash grab to me.

“I live a few miles outside the zone, travelling into the city on one side and out on the other side via the Cumberland Basin. Due to where I live, I am not entitled to any help with buying a newer car. My car is very reliable and well-maintained. Now, the zone forces me to pay £45 to do what I have done for the last 11 years or complete a massive detour around the motorway and country lanes. I won’t be able to travel into town on a weekend with my family due to parking charge increases and the zone charge during a cost of living crisis. I think it’s going to kill off Bristol’s trade.”

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Daily charges for Bristol Clean Air Zone apply 24 hours a day (midnight to midnight), seven days a week, all year round, and must be paid within six days of travel. People can pay online at or by calling the Clean Air Zone support line on 0300 029 8888 (Monday to Friday: 8am to 7pm, Saturday: 8am to 2pm).

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