Drivers in London are having to navigate an increasingly complicated patchwork of road charges, according to a new report by Centre for London. The report, Green Light: Next Generation of Road User Charging for a Healthier, More Liveable London, highlights an urgent need to consolidate and simplify existing and planned schemes – including the Congestion Charge, the new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and proposed charges for the new Blackwall and Silvertown tunnel.
By 2025, London could have at least five separate road user charging schemes each featuring different vehicle standards, hours of operation, charge amounts and payment arrangements. The report argues that the Mayor of London should replace existing and planned schemes with a single system, which would be much simpler for drivers to navigate.
The scheme, which the report calls City Move, would charge drivers per mile and apply in areas of high demand and poor air quality. Rates would vary by vehicle emissions, local levels of congestion and pollution and availability of public transport alternatives – but would be set before the journey begins.
The report argues that City Move would be fairer than the Congestion Charge and ULEZ, because it would reflect the true level of vehicle usage and its contribution to congestion and pollution in the capital, rather than charging drivers a flat daily rate regardless of how much they drive in the zone. City Move would consider the impact of individual journeys in terms of road surface damage, economic costs and environmental damage.
But City Move would not just be another new road user charging scheme. The report sets out radical plans for a multimodal platform integrated with the rest of the capital’s transport system. Available as an app and website, it would allow customers to compare, plan and pay for journeys using the full range of travel options on offer in the capital. Using the latest technology, the platform would compare the relative costs and impacts of taking the bus, tube, train, car-sharing, taxi hailing, bike hire, cycling or walking to help users make informed travel choices.
The scheme would encourage more efficient ride sharing and promote the use of public transport, walking and cycling. The report outlines a number of benefits of City Move:
- Tackle city-wide air pollution – charging drivers on the most congested roads the equivalent of a cup of coffee or a bus ticket could reduce total emissions and air pollution levels across the whole of London by up to a fifth (over and above the anticipated impact of the current ULEZ).
- Better experience on the roads – the scheme would reduce congestion and allow investment in roads maintenance, creating a better journey for all road users.
- Better for business – the scheme could reduce traffic overall, thereby reducing delays and helping business to make efficiency savings.
The technology exists and the Mayor of London has powers required to implement such a scheme. The report therefore calls on the Mayor to lead on the development of a smarter, fairer and healthier transport system – one with a new approach to road user charging at its heart.
It recommends that the Mayor of London should ask Transport for London to develop options for a new approach to road user charging, with a view to introducing the first version of a scheme by the end of the 2020-2024 Mayoral term. This would include developing a customer platform, upgrading the required GPS and mobile network capacity, and a trial to test the technology.
Silviya Barrett, Research Manager at Centre for London said:
“The Congestion Charge was pioneering when it was introduced 16 years ago, and the ULEZ is desperately needed to address a growing air quality crisis. But they are both relatively blunt systems.
“Embracing new technology can help create a simpler and smarter system, one which is fairer for drivers and better for the city overall.
“The scheme could be designed to reduce car usage and improve air quality as well as encouraging Londoners to lead more active lifestyles.
“London’s streets would be more pleasant and inviting places where people want to play and socialise. This would help create a healthier, more liveable city.”
Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, said:
“As this report rightly highlights, to have any chance of working smoothly and attracting public support rules and regulations need to be simple to understand and easy to plan for.
“One wonders whether this is the case in London – and increasingly in other towns and cities across the country – where drivers are confronted with an array of charges designed to do different things across different geographical areas. Many could be forgiven for confusing their CCs, CAZs and ULEZs.
“No one would challenge the urgent need to tackle congestion and reduce emissions so the easier things are made for drivers to comply the quicker change will be accepted.”
Will Judge, Vice President of Urban Mobility at Mastercard, said:
“By 2050, more than 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, yet partly due to congestion, cities already account for this same percentage of global CO2 emissions. So the recommended creation of an integrated transport charging model is a sustainable and efficient way to for London to tackle its challenge of moving millions of people around the city.
“Helping residents and visitors plan, book, buy their journeys through one digital platform, would reduce complexity but also aid peoples understanding of the environmental impact of their travel.”
Richard Dilks, Transport Director, London First, said:
“London paved the way for congestion charging 16 years ago and, as charging for road use becomes more commonplace in big cities across the world, we need to plan to stay one step ahead.
“With the city now boasting various charges designed to tackle congestion and emissions, more than 6 in 10 (63%) of Londoners support a simpler combination of these charges in future.
“In order to keep London an attractive place to visit, live and work we need to modernise and cohere our charges as part of a package of measures to effectively tackle congestion and air quality.”
Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM, Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, said:
“An intelligent use of our crowded roads must involve moving to a system of charging per mile for trips made in areas of high demand and poor air quality.
“We need a radical overhaul of the growing number of road user charges and instead move to a single comprehensive system that directly tackles congestion and air pollution wherever it occurs in the capital.”