Authorities in London are being warned that plans to introduce a new road user charging system – in a bid to reduce transport emissions – will punish those who cannot afford an electric car.
The new system is one of the headline conclusions of a new report, commissioned and endorsed by the mayor of London, as part of efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.
The report stresses the importance of a ‘significant shift’ away from petrol and diesel vehicle use and towards walking and cycling, greater public transport use and cleaner vehicles. At the moment, just 2% of vehicles on the roads in London are electric.
To achieve this shift, the report sets out that London will need a new kind of road user charging system, implemented by the end of the decade at the latest.
Sadiq Khan says such a system could abolish all existing road user charges – such as the Congestion Charge and ULEZ – and replace them with a ‘simple and fair scheme’ where drivers pay per mile.
The scheme could feature different rates depending on how polluting vehicles are, the level of congestion in the area and access to public transport.
Conceding that the technology to implement such a scheme is still ‘years away from being ready’, the mayor has also announced he is considering a number of policies that could be ready within the next few years.
The potential approaches under consideration include:
- Extending the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) beyond the north and south circular roads to cover the whole of Greater London, using the current charge level and emissions standards
- Modifying the ULEZ to add a small clean air charge for all but the cleanest vehicles
- Introducing a Greater London boundary charge, which would charge a small fee to non-London registered vehicles entering Greater London
Subject to consultation and feasibility, the chosen scheme would be implemented by May 2024.
Sadiq Khan said: “This new report must act as a stark wake-up call for the Government on the need to provide much greater support to reduce carbon emissions in London. It’s clear the scale of the challenge means we can’t do everything alone.
“But I’m not willing to stand by and wait when there’s more we can do in London that could make a big difference. We simply don’t have time to waste.
“The climate emergency means we only have a small window of opportunity left to reduce carbon emissions to help save the planet, and, despite the world-leading progress we have made over the last few years, there is still far too much toxic air pollution permanently damaging the lungs of young Londoners.
“This is also a matter of social justice – with air pollution hitting the poorest communities the hardest. Londoners on lower incomes are more likely to live in areas of the city most badly affected by air pollution and least likely to own a car.
“Nearly half of Londoners don’t own a car, but they are disproportionately feeling the damaging consequences polluting vehicles are causing.”
Proposals to create ‘massive financial challenges’ – RAC
The RAC says the announcement of the proposals is ‘poorly timed’ – given the basic cost of living for Londoners is soaring.
The breakdown organisation is calling on the mayor to ‘think again’ instead of ‘defaulting to extracting more money from the pockets of London’s drivers’.
Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of roads policy, said: “These proposals would create massive financial challenges for individuals, families and businesses who run a car in London and even for those who visit the fringes of the Capital.
“We all want to see cleaner air and cleaner vehicles on the road and it’s right the mayor has ambitions to reduce emissions from road transport but these proposals could be beyond the means of many and will punish those who simply cannot afford an electric car.
“Our research suggests fewer than a third of drivers in London expect to switch to an electric vehicle within the next five years, and at the same time the mayor himself cannot commit to a zero-emission TfL bus fleet until 2037.
“Worse still, proposals to charge vehicles outside of London to enter the boundary is likely to impact hardest on workers such as carers, tradespeople and night-time economy staff for whom there is no alternative to using a vehicle.
“At a time when the basic cost of living for Londoners is soaring, these proposals seem to be poorly timed, so we strongly urge the mayor to think again instead of defaulting to extracting more money from the pockets of London’s drivers.”
18 January 2022