Khan ‘cowardly’ to rule out ‘pay-per-mile’ road charging

The London Assembly’s Green group leader Caroline Russell has criticised the mayor for allowing the Tories to “dictate” transport policy in the capital, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

London mayor Sadiq Khan (left) and Green assembly member Caroline Russell (right)
London mayor Sadiq Khan (left) and Green assembly member Caroline Russell (right)

The Green Party has accused Sadiq Khan of allowing the Tories to “dictate” his transport policies, by “cowardly” ruling out a ‘pay-per-mile’ road user charging system.

The mayor had repeatedly said in recent years that he wanted to introduce such a system, telling the Evening Standard podcast in 2022 that people would “pay per mile depending on what time of day they drive, what their vehicle is, what the alternatives are to driving their car and so forth”.

But Khan last year said he had scrapped those plans, claiming they were no longer necessary following his London-wide expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) in August 2023.

His Conservative opponent, Susan Hall, said throughout the recent mayoral election that he was lying, and would bring in a per-per-mile system if re-elected. Khan denied this, and included a line in his manifesto explicitly ruling it out.

In a Q&A session with journalists this week, the London Assembly’s Green group said that by cancelling the plans, the Labour mayor was “tying one hand behind his back” at the same time as trying to meet ambitious climate and traffic reduction targets.

“That is removing one of the most powerful tools he has to reduce transport carbon, and he’s just ruling it out completely,” said Green group leader Caroline Russell. “He’s allowed the divisive, Daily Mail, war-on-the-motorist piece to shape his policy, and to limit him in terms of what he can do.”

In his 2022 interview with the Standard’s podcast, Khan had said he was “quite clear” that “if we’re serious about net zero carbon, then it’s inevitable we’re going to have to move towards smart road user charging”.

Russell argued that Khan should already have introduced a form of pay-per-mile charging, saying that “small, tiny fees per mile” – based on several factors like the size of vehicle being driven – would have been “much fairer” than the “simple, big, chunky fee” of the Ulez.

“He’s actually just tying one hand behind his back and making it much harder to deliver what he needs to deliver, for London to be playing its part in meeting climate targets,” she added.

Zack Polanski, the Greens’ national deputy leader, said the local elections across England had shown that politicians who met their net zero ambitions were rewarded at the ballot box.

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“So it just seems like a cowardly decision,” he said. “Why let Susan Hall and the Conservatives dictate your policy, when he would have won anyway?”

The Greens vowed to continue pressuring the mayor to clamp down on private car use and instead encourage “shared mobility”.

Khan has said he wants to achieve net zero carbon emissions in London by 2030, a full two decades ahead of the government’s national 2050 target.

According to data collected by City Hall, London’s net emissions fell 25% between 2015 and 2021. Government statistics suggest that emissions fell 14% across the country in the same period.

Khan’s 2018 transport strategy meanwhile set out his aim for 80 per cent of all trips in London to be made on foot, by cycle or using public transport by 2041.

“This four years has got to be used really strategically, because actually, if we’re going to reduce the transport miles driven [on London’s streets per year], we’ve got to have some real changes,” Russell said.

“The only way he can do it is with big, transformatory stuff. So business as usual, and the idea of it being just normal to use a car for short journeys in a city – I can’t see how he can meet his climate targets without challenging that assumption.”

She added: “We need to be thinking about shared mobility, about many more public transport options, and making it safer and more convenient for people to get around in wheelchairs, mobility scooters, on bicycles, on foot – actually making it easy for people to enjoy their life in our city, and enjoy getting around our city, without necessarily owning a car.”

A spokesperson for Khan said: “The mayor’s re-election shows he has the mandate for ambitious green policies and he is determined to achieve his mission to make London a net-zero carbon city by 2030, while strengthening alternatives to private car use to reduce congestion.

“His track record speaks for itself, with 48,000 fewer vehicles seen driving on an average since the London-wide ULEZ was implemented, and a reduction of 800,000 tonnes of CO2 over the past four years”.

She added that Khan “is the greenest mayor ever”, pointing to his recent manifesto pledges of fully electrifying the capital’s bus fleet by 2030; putting air pollution filters, heat pumps and solar panels in schools; boosting bike parking spaces and electric vehicle charging points; and planting more trees, among other promises.

She also pointed to his recent freezing of TfL fares, his creation of the Superloop network of express bus services in outer London, and his quadrupling of the number of cycleways since 2016.

“The mayor only has powers to address less than half of London’s emissions,” she said. “This is why Sadiq has urgently called for more funding and powers for City Hall to help bolster our green plans as we build a greener, more prosperous London for everyone.”

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