It is being played down in public but at the same time it is no secret that Transport for London is looking seriously at the possibility of introducing a sophisticated new road pricing scheme covering the whole of the capital.
Papers to be considered by the TfL board at its meeting tomorrow, 8 June, confirm this. Commissioner Andy Byford’s regular report provides a reminder that the current consultation about extending the recently enlarged ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) right out to the Greater London boundary also seeks the input of “the public, businesses and stakeholders” about “the issues to consider in any future road user charging schemes across London”.
Further on in the board papers, the document describing progress towards implementing Sadiq Khan’s formal transport strategy says under the heading “shaping the future of road user charging”:
“The Mayor has asked us to start exploring how a new kind of integrated road user charging system could be implemented to address the critical triple challenges of toxic air pollution, the climate emergency and traffic congestion. Such a system could replace all existing road user charges – such as the congestion charge, LEZ [low emission zone] and ULEZ – with a single integrated scheme”.
In this “potential future scheme”, the paper says, “drivers could pay based on distance travelled with different rates depending on how polluting their vehicles are or where they are driven in order to better reflect the impact of their journey”.
Road-pricing is a politically fraught issue, with any extension of it attracting energetic opposition. When London pioneered congestion charging, introducing the current central London scheme in 2003, even the closest advisers of the then Mayor Ken Livingstone were against it. Today, London Conservatives can be relied on to campaign vehemently against any addition to or augmentation of the current collection of schemes, whether real or conveniently imagined, and even if their party’s own national government has demanded it or ruled it out.
Despite this, an impressively broad consensus in favour of the type of potential road pricing system the TfL paper describes has taken shape, encompassing the Green Party and Liberal Democrat London Assembly groups, business group London First, think tank Centre for London and the Campaign for Better Transport. Labour are more cautious, but the Mayor’s interest in the possibilities is clear.
Moreover, earlier this year a report about road pricing by the Commons transport select committee concluded that introducing more of it is the only way the government can compensate for falling income from vehicle taxation as the number of electric cars on Britain’s roads, which are exempt from both fuel and vehicle excise duty, increases.
Dave Hill: Can we road price all of London?