No work taking place on ‘pay-per-mile’ road user charging, says TfL chief

No work taking place on ‘pay-per-mile’ road user charging, says TfL chief

Driverless vehicles, drones delivering your shopping to your door, an app to pay your bus or tube fare? Not happening any time soon. That was the experts’ conclusion as the London Assembly transport committee looked into the future of getting around in the capital.

Transport for London’s strategy and innovation director Thomas Ableman was also quick to confirm that new road user charges for drivers based on distance travelled were not on City Hall’s agenda either. “Pay per mile is not something anyone is working on in TfL,” he told Assembly members.

His comments came as a separate transport committee report, Future Road User Charging in London, was published, highlighted the ongoing controversy around the policy, particularly if it involved moving to the “smarter” system involving setting charges by distance, vehicle emissions or time of travel rather than the current flat rate payment.

With user charging off the table, the top TfL priority for the future, Ableman said, was decarbonisation, with a target date of 2034 for a fully electric bus fleet or as early as 2030 with help from more government funding. And the key policy remained that set out in the Mayor’s 2018 transport strategy, for 80 per cent of all trips in London to be made on foot, by cycle or using public transport by 2041.

While TfL was keeping a watching brief on innovative travel technologies – “We are out in the marketplace making sure we understand what is coming up” – it would not be rushing into backing particular solutions, he said, explaining that post-pandemic uncertainties remain concerning the pace of the city’s economic recovery and around travel patterns, with Friday ridership on the network still at just 73 per cent of 2019/20 levels and Londoners staying local

“Will this continue, or accelerate, or will the city return more to the agglomeration model that has been traditional?” Ableman asked. “We don’t know what the future will bring. We need to be agile in responding, not predicting.”

TfL’s ongoing trial of e-scooter rentals, now extended to May 2026, was cited as an example of the approach, demonstrating both their safety and value as a sustainable transport alternative.Wider regulation was now needed, Ableman added, along with more control over the “chaotic” e-bike market which he described as currently “underperforming as a transport mode but over-impacting on the streetscape”.

Ableman was more lukewarm towards the value of autonomous vehicles, while Robert Garbutt, chief executive of the Drone Major consultancy, was blunter. “Driving through the streets of London in an autonomous vehicle is a long way away,” he said. And he called the idea of drone delivery to your home “utter nonsense”, unsafe, unviable and socially unacceptable.

Trials of driverless vehicle grocery deliveries were nevertheless underway in west London, the committee heard, with further opportunities available for cargo transport using autonomous vehicles in controlled settings, as well as drones, coupled with expanded goods delivery along the Thames. The Mayor would soon need a policy on the siting of drone ports, committee members were told.

Meanwhile the committee’s road user charging report found that while experts backed a new “smarter” scheme, which would offer greater simplicity and fairness as well as helping to tackle pollution and congestion, individual Londoners responding to the committee were not impressed.

The report therefore focused on the practicalities of introducing a new system, along with general issues policymakers should take into account, rather than recommending the “smart” approach or coming to a view about whether it should be introduced.

And even that general level of discussion “around a potential future road user charging scheme has resulted in substantial public concern”, the report concluded. “Any future Mayor or government considering the development of a future road user charging scheme must take this very seriously.”

The report recommended that any such scheme should ringfence the income it generated for early improvements to public transport, with a “significant proportion” delivered ahead of the scheme’s introduction.

The transport committee meeting can be viewed in full here.

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