Road pricing is one tool (within London Mayoral powers) to address the externalities of motor traffic. Cars are a major polluter of the air and water in London. Whether from  particulates generated by brake, tyre and road wear or emissions from the tailpipe.

Motor traffic dominates and consumes large parts of  public space in the city, impeding safe sustainable active travel.  Congestion creates an inefficient and stagnant environment, delaying buses, essential commercial and emergency services. Cars are now the fastest growing contributor to Climate Meltdown. These are but a few of the externalities.

Recent research shows  Air pollution spikes are directly linked to hospitalisation. There have so far been nine high air pollution alerts in London under Sadiq Khan’s Mayoralty.

I have been told it is within Mayoral powers to raise the Congestion Charge on high air pollution days to reduce motor traffic pollution. One wonders why this has not been done immediately, given the serious correlation between air pollution spikes and hospitalisation? Surely that is a moral imperative?

This article describes how children are being hospitalised this Summer because of illegal air pollution. It makes the most visceral case for employing  road charging to save lives and improve public health.

Guddi Singh, a paediatric doctor in London, writes:

‘The cocktail of pollution and pollen in London kills people. Politicians should spend a night on the wards to see the harm.

I sat by (children’s) beds as they writhed, struggling for air, their small bodies wracked with coughs. It is a kind of torture, to fear for your next breath. You can see the sheer terror in the children’s eyes.’

The toxicity charge, introduced by the Mayor in 2017,  has cut the number of polluting vehicles entering Central London by about 1000 per day (Mon-Fri 7am-6pm) but this is simply tinkering in the context of an escalating public health crisis.

At its most basic the Congestion Charge helps make space for desirable road transport. In the Mayor’s Transport strategy 2018 the target of 80% of personal journeys by walking , cycling and public transport requires prioritisation of space for pedestrianisation, wider footways, segregated cycling lanes and priority bus lanes. Janette Sadik Khan has said that road pricing IS a priority bus measure.

Ken LIvingstone understood the strategic importance of the Congestion Charge for thevbuses. When it was introduced in 2003 it was very successful in improving reliability.

Failure by the Mayor to update the Congestion Charge, has not only delayed bus reliability but has made it more difficult for councils to introduce safer walking and cycling schemes. It is imortant to prepare the ground so there is less motor traffic when walking and cycling schemes go in. This makes the transition easier. .

Quick wins would see the current congestion charge hours extended from a third of the week (7am -6pm Mon-Fri) to 24/7. I have written more about this in my blog Private car problem solved in London? Not according to 24/7 data.

Additionally current exemptions could be removed. TFL are currently consulting on removing exemptions for non zero emission capable private hire vehicles like Uber. However this does not address the externalities of congestion from inefficient use of prime road space or particulate air and water pollution from brake tyre and road wear. And Taxis and other polluting motor vehicles are not included in the consultation.

Meanwhile the price of the Congestion Charge could simply be raised to meet a quantified, most desirable and efficient number of motor vehicles on central London streets.

The newly approved Silvertown Tunnel has been sold as a source of road pricing for TFL but a quick look at the  Silvertown Mole blog Silvertown: Another Road To Nowhere? shows that this is fundementally flawed.

The plan is that TfL will toll both the Blackwall and the Silvertown Tunnel but ‘The project expects (at best) to maintain provision for existing levels of heavy motor traffic, and existing levels of pollution. At worst, it’ll enable much more traffic & pollution. And then there’s the pollution & carbon cost of building it.’ And in theory a future Mayor could remove the Silvertown and Blackwall tolls entirely. They’d need to consult the public on the proposal, but it’s an executive decision for the Mayor.’

This begs the question what IS the Mayor of London’s strategy on road pricing? Does he really want to save lives by cutting congestion and air pollution? Does he really want to make walking , cycling and public transport the most accessible options for all Londoners? Does he want to cut greenhouse emissions to mitigate against Climate Meltdown? The Silvertown Tunnel is a road pricing  infrastructure project that has no ambition to cut pollution, emissions and road danger in an already highly polluted part of London.

The Mayor is banking on an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ),  to be introduced in central London from  8 April 2019, to improve air quality. It will replace the current T-Charge. and will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year within the same area as the current Congestion Charging Zone (CCZ). The extension of the hours to 24/7 is good news. However there are  still many exemptions for Taxis, Residents, Private Hire Vehicles and more.

It is worth noting that  the Sivertown Tunnel falls outside this area.


And then the  promise is that from 25 October 2021, should Sadiq Khan be re-elected, the area will be expanded to the inner London area bounded by the North and South Circular roads.

Will this be enough to stop the Mayor’s exposure to litigation from families whose loved ones have lost their lives and their health from illegal air pollution in London? We will have to wait and see?