Mayor’s Office confirms it is considering new road-pricing plans, as report reveals London traffic would need to fall by nearly a quarter to deliver on net zero goals

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is considering a raft of new policy measures to tackle transport emissions in the capital, including proposals for new charges for motorists, following the publication of a new report today detailing the huge scale of the challenge if London is to deliver on its target of becoming a net zero city by 2030.

The Mayor’s Office today published a report from Element Energy, which explores how the capital will have to rapidly accelerate emissions reductions over the coming decade if it is to deliver on its climate goals. It stresses that is a particularly urgent need to tackle emissions from road transport, which have fallen only marginally over the past 20 years, despite the introduction of the congestion zone and the expansion of public transport and cycling infrastructure.

The report, which was commissioned by the Mayor, found that between 2000 and 2018 London achieved a 57 per cent reduction in workplace greenhouse gas emissions, a 40 per cent reduction in emissions from homes, but just a seven per cent reduction in emissions from transport.

It argues that to deliver on the capital’s climate and air quality goals there would need to be a 27 per cent reduction in car vehicle kilometres at the latest, accompanied by a significant expansion in public transport use, cycling and walking, and electric vehicle fleets.

The report proposes that to achieve such a steep reduction in car use the capital would require a new kind of road user charging system to be implemented by the end of the decade at the latest.

Such a system could abolish all existing road user charges – such as the Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) – and replace them with a simple and fair scheme where drivers pay per mile, with different rates depending on how polluting vehicles are, the level of congestion in the area and access to public transport, the report said.

The Mayor’s Office this morning confirmed that in response to the report it is to launch a consultation that will consider a range of new approaches for tackling transport emissions and congestion.

Specifically, it will look at extending the ULEZ to tackle more of the dirtiest vehicles and take in the whole of Greater London, introducing a small clean air charge for all but the cleanest vehicles, and introducing a Greater London boundary charge, which would charge a small fee to non-London registered vehicles entering the capital. Subject to consultation and feasibility, the chosen scheme would be implemented by May 2024.  

The proposals are likely to prove highly controversial, but the Mayor’s Office insisted any new measures would be subject to full equality impact assessments, with mitigations and exemptions put in place for Londoners on low incomes and with disabilities a key focus of any scheme development.

Khan also stressed that it was in London’s long term economic interests to tackle air pollution and congestion across the capital that is estimated to contribute to nearly 4,000 premature deaths a year and result in over £5bn a year of economic costs. And he warned that without urgent action the capital and the wider world would face devastating climate impacts that would undermine development efforts and security.  

“We simply don’t have time to waste,” he said. “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 disproportionally feeling the damaging consequences polluting vehicles are causing.”

Khan also reiterated his long-standing calls for central government to provide more support for the capital’s decarbonisation efforts.    

“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,” he said. “It’s clear the scale of the challenge means we can’t do everything alone. 

“We have too often seen measures to tackle air pollution and the climate emergency delayed around the world because it’s viewed as being too hard or politically inconvenient, but I’m not willing to put off action we have the ability to implement here in London. I’m determined that we continue to be doers, not delayers – not only to protect Londoners’ health right now, but for the sake of future generations to come.       

“It’s clear the cost of inaction – to our economy, to livelihoods, to the environment and to the health of Londoners – would be far greater than the cost of transitioning to net zero and reducing toxic air pollution.”

The new proposals were also welcomed by Christina Calderato, director of transport strategy and policy at Transport for London, who said that “road based transport has for many years been a major contributor towards poor air quality and carbon emissions and we are determined to reverse this through a wide range of programmes across TfL”.

“The world-leading road user charging schemes we’ve delivered throughout the last 20 years have been really effective in addressing congestion and tackling air quality across London, but it is clear that as a city we need to go further,” she added. “These new approaches will allow us to take further steps towards a net-zero city and we will ensure that Londoners and those who regularly visit London are involved as we progress this work in more detail.”

However, Khan will face a significant political battle if he is to expand road-charging schemes across the capital. Various proposals to introduce road-charging measures in urban centres across the UK have been scrapped or delayed in recent years following public criticism, while environmental campaigners have routinely warned that such schemes will struggle to deliver on their goals without accompanying investment in public transport and active travel infrastructure.

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