This comes in the run-up to the introduction next week of the so-called T-Charge—a £10 ($13.20) levy for older, more polluting vehicles to enter Central London’s Congestion Charge Zone. The T-charge will have to be paid on top of London’s existing £11.50 ($15.20) congestion charge, making it prohibitively expensive to drive more polluting vehicles (typically any car built before 2006) into the zone. In effect, the charge is so high that it’s really a ban. This is in keeping with London’s policy of pricing polluters out of affordable access, as opposed to Paris’ approach of barring all older cars by law.
It’s pretty much beyond dispute that some form of action is necessary to improve the quality of air Londoners are breathing. The latest figures show that London’s air is polluted beyond safe levels not just in the city core, but across almost all Greater London. The capital lies at the heart of a country where 50,000 people die due to pollution-related illnesses annually, a per capita rate exceeded in Western Europe only in foul-aired, notoriously congested Belgium.
Mayor Sadiq Khan is quite right to highlight these dangers to the public, given the resistance that often comes from moves to combat it—the hullaballoo from some sections of the U.K. media over the carving out of cycle lanes in London, for example, was a wonder to behold.
But is Khan really doing enough to clear the air? His administration certainly seems to be aware of the urgency of action. The T-Charge is in fact an early introduction of a long-planned policy to create an Ultra Low Emissions Zone in central London next year, which will basically be a tighter more systematic version of next week’s charge. This nonetheless represents the rolling out of an existing pollution and congestion-management system—the Congestion Charge—that has arguably passed its sell-by date already.
The charge, introduced in 2003, did much initially to thin out jams in central London’s streets, but last year, congestion returned to its pre-charge levels, the private vehicles that had been discouraged having been replaced by commercial vehicles, such as delivery vans and Ubers. Without extending charging beyond the zone to create a city-wide road pricing system, it’s hard to see how things will meaningfully approve.