London needs a 'new kind of road user charging system' says Mayor Khan – TransportXtra

A new report states that in order to meet climate change targets, car traffic must reduce by at least 27 per cent in London by the end of the decade

Juliana O’Rourke

18 January 2022

One current option is to Introduce a Greater London boundary charge, which would charge a small fee to non-London registered vehicles entering Greater London, responding to the increase in cars from outside London travelling into the city seen in recent years

One current option is to Introduce a Greater London boundary charge, which would charge a small fee to non-London registered vehicles entering Greater London, responding to the increase in cars from outside London travelling into the city seen in recent years

One current option is to Introduce a Greater London boundary charge, which would charge a small fee to non-London registered vehicles entering Greater London, responding to the increase in cars from outside London travelling into the city seen in recent years

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan


The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has set a target for London to be net zero carbon by 2030.  A “new kind of road user charging system” could be one of the solutions, he has announced, based on new analysis.

In order to reduce transport emissions by anywhere close to the amount required to clean up London’s air, achieve net-zero targets and cut congestion, the capital will have to see a significant shift away from petrol and diesel vehicle use and towards walking and cycling, greater public transport use and cleaner vehicles.

At the moment, just two per cent of vehicles on the roads in London are electric.

To support this ambition, the Mayor commissioned experts Element Energy to analyse the possible pathways to achieving net zero. The new analysis shows that to achieve anywhere near the necessary 27 per cent reduction in car vehicle kilometres, London will need a new kind of road user charging system implemented by the end of the decade at the latest.

The Mayor had already taken ground breaking action to tackle toxic air, carbon emissions and congestion in the capital by introducing and then expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone and tightening Low Emission Zone standards – but these measures were expected to lead to less than a five per cent fall in CO2 emissions from cars and vans in the zone, and a 30 per cent cut in toxic nitrogen oxide emissions from road transport.

The new report shows how much more action is required.

A road user charging system, as proposed, could “abolish all existing road user charges – such as the Congestion Charge and 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,” said The Mayor. 

‘Subject to consultation, it is likely there would be exemptions and discounts for those on low incomes and with disabilities, as well as consideration around support for charities and small businesses.’

The Mayor recognises that London could benefit from more sophisticated types of technology to introduce this kind of simple, fair road user charging scheme and has therefore asked Transport for London to start exploring how it could be developed. However, it’s clear the technology to implement such a scheme is still years away from being ready. 

The report comes just a week after new analysis showed vehicle congestion cost the capital £5.1bn in the last year, and has risen to pre-pandemic levels, leading to gridlocked traffic and filthy air pollution. 

On Friday 167 January 2022, London suffered its worst air pollution since 2018, when experts predicted it would reach “band 10”, the highest level on the scale.

The government issued warnings and advised older people and those with lung or heart problems to avoid strenuous physical activity, reported the national press.

The London emissions crisis

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 7 per cent reduction in emissions from transport.

Element Energy analysed four possible pathways to net zero, looking at the different ways London can reduce emissions. The report shows that under all pathways it is possible to accelerate action and radically reduce carbon emissions with the right ambition, leadership, powers and funding. 

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “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. It’s clear the scale of the challenge means we can’t do everything alone. 

“But I’m not willing to stand by and wait when there’s more we can do in London that could make a big difference. We simply don’t have time to waste. 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. 

As well as helping avoid catastrophic climate change, there are many other benefits in achieving net zero, including supporting tens of thousands of jobs; improving health through better air quality and more active lifestyles; reducing inequalities and improving quality of life for all.

The potential approaches under consideration are:

  • Extending the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) even further to tackle more of the dirtiest vehicles: extending the current zone beyond the north and south circular roads to cover the whole of Greater London, using the current charge level and emissions standards.

  • Modifying the ULEZ to make it even more impactful in reducing emissions: building on the existing scheme by extending it to cover the whole of Greater London and adding a small clean air charge for all but the cleanest vehicles.

  • A small clean air charge: a low-level daily charge across all of Greater London for all but the cleanest vehicles to nudge behaviour and reduce the number of short journeys by car

  • Introducing a Greater London boundary charge, which would charge a small fee to non-London registered vehicles entering Greater London, responding to the increase in cars from outside London travelling into the city seen in recent years

  • Longer-term, though, a pay-per-mile road charging system will be considered

The facts and figures

The capital has seen a shift to driving during the pandemic with the cost of congestion rising to over £5 billion last year, leading to gridlocked roads and toxic air pollution. The number of miles being driven in the capital has increased in recent years, despite statistics showing that more than a third of car trips in London could be made in under 25 minutes by walking, and that two-thirds could be cycled in less than 20 minutes.

The toxic air pollution being caused by London traffic is leading to nearly 4,000 premature deaths a year and children growing up with stunted lungs. The action already committed by the Mayor will reduce the number of air quality-related hospital admissions by one million by 2050, helping save the NHS and social care system £5 billion.  However, if no additional action is taken to reduce air pollution beyond the existing polices, around 550,000 Londoners would develop diseases attributable to air pollution over the next 30 years and the cumulative cost to the NHS and the social care system is estimated to be £10.4 billion. 

The responses

Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said: “It is very good to see the Mayor of London stimulating debate about the challenges of reaching net-zero emissions in the capital by publishing this set of options. The latest science shows us the ever-more urgent need for action. Cities can lead the way to a zero -carbon economy . This transition will create jobs and growth, and if done well, should also cut air pollution and congestion, making London a more attractive, healthy and productive city.”

Jemima Hartshorn, Mums for Lungs, said: “Today is a good day for London’s kids. The Mayor has re-emphasised his commitment to cleaning up the toxic air by reducing traffic dramatically during his current tenure. Currently thousands of Londoners are still dying prematurely of illnesses linked to air pollution, but with the right schemes in London, this will be a thing of the past. We now call on national Government to give the Mayor the powers and funds to future-proof London and follow his leadership in putting health first.”

?Oliver Lord, UK Head of Clean Cities Campaign said: “This is one of the most significant announcements from any European city right now. No leader should declare a climate emergency and air pollution crisis and then skip the details, so I congratulate the Mayor and his team on this report. With these plans, the Mayor commits London to a growing momentum to phase out polluting cars. We now need all actors to play their part – the London boroughs and this Government included – so that climate talk becomes the climate walk.”

The RAC called the plan “poorly timed” with cleaner vehicles being “too expensive for most people”. The RAC’s Nicholas Lyes said: “These proposals would create massive financial challenges for individuals, families and businesses who run a car in London.”

AA president Edmund King slammed the proposals and said “charging vehicles off the road” is not the solution to cutting pollution, according to the natuional press. “We need to encourage the uptake of cleaner, greener vehicles,” he added.

The RAC Foundation is more open to change, however. Appearing as a witness before the Transport Select Committee Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said that: “If the government decides to introduce a system of road user charging to replace fuel duty as more and more cars become electric, then it should be as simple as possible in design.”

With the government banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030 and hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles on the road already income from fuel duty will steadily decline and the question for the Chancellor is how, indeed whether, he makes up the lost revenue.

“Fuel duty is going to go away, and the real question starts with whether the chancellor the government regards the ebbing away of fuel duty income as the price we pay for saving the planet and increases other duties, or whether given the fact that we have had this levy on motoring for many years now and have all got used to it, it should be sustained. My suspicion is that the conclusion will be that in some way it should be sustained.”


The Mayor and TfL will now begin a period of consultation with Londoners, local government and businesses about the way forward to achieving the clean, green and healthy future London and the world desperately needs.

Subject to consultation and feasibility, the chosen scheme would be implemented by May 2024. 


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