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Are we ready for Road User Charging?

By Tim Root

Featured in the FTL Newsletter, May 2022

Announcing his plan to extend the ULEZ, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said: we need to further reduce emissions from vehicles in London. … The climate emergency means we only have a small window of opportunity left.

The awful consequences of failing to cut emissions enough are partially foreshadowed by the nearly 500 additional deaths in London due to nineteen days of heatwaves in 2020. Many places including nearly half of London hospitals, and one in five schools will be at risk of flooding if temperatures continue rising.

The Committee on Climate Change recommend a 37 per cent cut in UK car emissions by 2030. However expanding the ULEZ to the whole of London would reduce CO2 emissions in outer London only by per cent. This is because the ULEZ criteria take no account of CO2. While extending the ULEZ to the whole of London is a step forward, when considering the climate emergency it is seriously inadequate. Already half the world’s population is suffering severe water shortage at some point each year due to climate breakdown. It is vital that cities take strong action promptly. Sadiq Khan, as chair of the global group C40 Cities, could ensure that London sets a great example for other world cities to follow.

The Mayor needs to focus on the survey findings that about 42 per cent of miles travelled in England are for leisure, and that higher income families drive much further than drivers in poorer households. Therefore, emissions from cars could be substantially reduced without causing deprivation. TfL found that only one trip in seven by a driver involves any thought about which mode of travel to use, with only four per cent giving this serious thought in regard to a specific journey. Research shows that even quite modest road user charges can stimulate a significant proportion of people to drive less.

Londoners are ready to drive less

Nearly two-thirds of Londoners think that ‘motorised transport’ makes a large or very large contribution to climate change. Only one in six say they would not consider using public transport instead of driving (p.20). Seven out of eight say they are motivated to help prevent climate change.

Encouraging people to drive less would be strengthened by convenient and affordable public transport. However, as the pandemic decimated TfL’s income, we face substantial cuts in services plus fare rises. The best way the Mayor can cut car emissions is to raise money from those drivers who can afford to pay in order to reduce some of the public transport cuts.

To do this the mayor could very soon include vehicles which emit well above the average level of CO2 in the current ULEZ. This could be enforced using the existing cameras and therefore would need no upfront investment. 2018 statistics show that nearly one-sixth of UK cars emitted more than 171 grams of CO2 per kilometre. I took a random sample of nine such cars which are not liable to pay the ULEZ charge. Their average price when new is 1.8 times that of the average new price of the 10 best-selling cars in the UK, and therefore they are probably nearly all owned by people with well above average income. If these cars were driven within the ULEZ about 100 times per year, each would pay £1,250 per year, totalling £201 million.

Expanding the ULEZ throughout Greater London would substantially improve air quality, with major health benefits. However, the ULEZ gives drivers no incentive to limit their mileage once they have incurred the set daily charge. By contrast, per mile road charging would be both fairer, and more effective in discouraging mileage. The charge per mile would increase according to the emissions level of the car, the availability of public transport in that locality, and the congestion level at that particular time. Technology like that in smart phones, and also built into many cars, is already available for privacy-friendly smart road charging, and used in various places such as Washington State. At just 8p per mile, smart charging for cars in London would raise about £1.14 billion per year, after exempting electric cars and cars driven by or for people with disabilities. With smart road charging Sadiq Khan could go down in history as a trailblazer for climate protection, clean air, and affordable public transport.

If you wish to check any of the sources cited, visit and you can click on the links there.

Tim Root

Tim Root is a member of Friends of the Earth London Network

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