Sadiq Khan rules out early move to wider, ‘smart’ congestion charging

Sadiq Khan rules out early move to wider, ‘smart’ congestion charging

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has ruled out any early moves towards further road pricing in the capital, despite warnings from Green Party London Assembly Member Caroline Russell that the government could take over City Hall powers to charge drivers and impose its own regime.

The mayor was in danger of “missing the boat” and seeing potential road-pricing revenue disappear into Whitehall if the government introduced a national scheme, Russell told Khan at the Assembly’s Mayor’s Question Time session today. 

“Road pricing is an idea whose time has come. You need to take a lead on this,” she urged the Mayor. “You’ve got the power. Are you going to use it, or lose it?”

Russell’s call followed reports this week that the government is considering charging drivers to use roads nationally in order to check congestion and replace lost fuel duty and car tax revenue as motorists switch to electric vehicles. Along with VAT on fuel sales, fuel and vehicle excise duties currently contribute some £40 billion a year to government coffers.

While flat-rate congestion charges do not take journey lengths into account, “smart, fair, privacy-friendly road pricing” would deter short journeys and bring in new money for transport in the capital, Russell said. 

“Everyone moving around the city needs to pay their share,” she added, pointing out that while none of the £500 million vehicle excise duty currently raised annually in London is devolved to the city, pricing per mile would see drivers in London contributing directly both to road maintenance and wider transport costs in the capital.

“With government now telling you to raise more revenue from Londoners to support transport in London, are you ready for an honest conversation with Londoners about how to do this in a fair way?” she asked the Mayor.

But Khan said his top priority is the ambitious expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), aimed at curbing air pollution. Accusing the Green Party of wanting to “jump in with both feet” with an untried and untested system, he promised only to keep possible road pricing systems “under review”.

The ULEZ charging system for vehicles failing to meet emissions standards was first introduced in Central London last year, and is due to be expanded to the whole area within the North and South Circular Roads in October next year, with a daily charge of £12.50 for non-compliant vehicles.

Russell set out her road-pricing call in a piece for On London earlier this month, and the Centre for London think tank put forward its plans for road charging in a detailed report last year, calling on a scheme to be in place by April 2024.

Decision-makers have remained nervous of charging schemes however, with driver opposition forcing the last Labour government to pull back from its plans in 2007, and road-pricing “still perceived by most as a ‘Poll Tax on wheels’,” according to AA chief Edmund King.

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