Sadiq Khan has denied he has any plans to implement ‘pay-as-you-drive’ schemes in London.
Earlier this month, a report emerged in The Telegraph that the Mayor of London was “plotting” to use Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) enforcement cameras to implement a future pay-as-you-drive scheme in England’s capital city. These would essentially work by using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to track where, when, and how far a vehicle has travelled - and potentially using this information to calculate any related emissions and bill the driver accordingly.
The newspaper reported: “In an answer to the London Assembly earlier this week, Khan revealed that he had asked Transport for London (TfL) to look into developing a scheme which would use more ‘sophisticated technology’ to charge road users. He added: ‘ANPR cameras could form part of the potential operation of such a scheme but no proposals have been developed.’”
However, when asked about whether there was any truth to these reports, and whether this amounted to plans for a pay-as-you-drive scheme, the Mayor told NationalWorld: “There are no plans in relation to pay-as-you-drive. I’ve not seen any proposals on this.”
“But listen,” he continued. “I hear conspiracy theories about these things all the time. What’s important is the reality - and the reality is that air pollution is a matter of life and death. I believe breathing clean air should be a human right rather than a privilege. And London’s policies are world-leading in this regard.”
Khan has faced significant controversy over the past few months on account of his plans to expand ULEZ to cover all boroughs in London. This is due to take effect from August, meaning from then, a £12.50 per day charge will be imposed on any vehicle entering the zone which doesn’t meet strict emission standards.
Opponents to the expansion argue that this will unfairly impact working people - particularly in the midst of a cost of living crisis - and be detrimental to local economies. Labour MP Seema Malhotra told LBC: "Whilst I share the goal of reducing pollution and increasing air quality, I am very concerned about the economic impact the current roll-out plans will have on residents and small businesses”.
She added that the plans will have a "disproportionate effect on lower income families and the self-employed who use their vehicle for work". Meanwhile, Labour’s John Cruddas echoed these concerns, arguing that while he “understood the pressing need to improve air quality and public health", the scheme is “another unwelcome hit on working people.” He continued by saying his constituency, Dagenham and Rainham, “is home to many low-income workers who rely on their personal vehicles".
However, addressing a World Health Organisation Healthy Cities Summit on Wednesday (15 March), Khan argued that the benefits of ULEZ outweigh the concerns. “ULEZ has been nothing short of transformative,” he said. “Four million people are breathing cleaner air, and harmful pollution levels in central London are nearly half what they would have been without the ULEZ.
“Shamefully, there has been a coordinated effort to prevent this,” he continued, referencing the demonstrations taking place outside where the summit was being held, at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Protesters held signs featuring messages such as ‘The End of Free Movement’, ‘London: Pioneering Prison Cities’, and ‘Beep If You Think Sadiq Should Go!’
But Khan insisted that the “fight was still worth having”. He commented: “Some people of course have legitimate concerns. But for these reasonable people, the key thing is to have the information, the evidence, the data on why we’re doing this - and the vast majority then understand, particularly when you point out that air pollution disproportionately affects people in more deprived areas.”
The Mayor then remarked however that “some people will never accept what you do”, but said: “In this situation, I’m determined to do what’s right for public health, even if it is not popular.”
Khan was joined at the summit by Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, a leading figure in terms of raising awareness for asthma and other health problems caused by air pollution. She first began her campaigning, creating charity ‘The Ella Roberta Foundation’, after she discovered the role air pollution had played in the death of her nine-year-old daughter, Ella.
“There is a very good reason why ULEZ is being expanded,” Ms Kissi-Debrah told the audience. “One in nine deaths worldwide are due to air pollution, so you need to tackle clean air or people will continue to die.
“Let’s address the elephant in the room,” she said, also referencing the protesters. “They just haven’t understood all the information, and that’s okay. But there’s nothing more they can do to harm me, because the worst has already happened. So I’m in this fight. I have nothing to lose. Because every single child’s life is worth it.”
Looking ahead to future plans, Khan told NationalWorld: “What we want to do now is get more people breathing clean air. But we want to do that by expanding ULEZ - not by other policies people may be talking about.”