Sadiq Khan has shelved plans to potentially charge all combustion-engined cars driving into central London, it has been reported, after he spent Tuesday defending the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez).
Proposals outlined in the Mayor’s 2018 transport strategy for a “zero emission zone” in the heart of the capital have been dropped, the Financial Times reported.
A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office told the paper: “TfL continues to support boroughs who wish to implement zero emission zones in their local areas.”
The Mayor’s 2018 transport strategy had argued it may be necessary to introduce “disincentives” to phase out fossil fuel vehicles altogether, suggesting combustion-engined cars could “pay road user charges” for driving in certain areas.
The apparent shift away from the plans comes after London became the world’s largest pollution charging area after Ulez was expanded to include the whole of the capital.
People who drive in the zone in a vehicle that does not meet minimum emissions standards are now required to pay a £12.50 daily fee or risk a £180 fine, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.
Mr Khan has faced opposition to the scheme, although a £160 million scheme run by Transport for London (TfL) enables residents, small businesses, sole traders and charities scrapping non-compliant cars to claim grants.
Speaking on GB News on Tuesday morning, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said he would stop the rollout if he had the power to do so and highlighted his reservations about the true motives behind the expansion.
Meanwhile, in a separate round of interviews, the London mayor denied that extending Ulez was “anti-car” and accused Mr Harper of “factual errors”.
The Transport Secretary insisted the scheme was a “money-raising exercise” rather than a green initiative and but said he was unable to intervene.
He told LBC the Government will be backing an amendment to the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill to make changes to the 1999 law that created the role of mayor of London.
Under the amendment, brought forward by Tory peer Lord Moylan, London boroughs would be able to opt out of future Transport for London (TfL) clean air schemes if they are meeting air quality targets.
Mr Harper said: “One of the problems here is that a number of London local authorities don’t support this scheme coming into force, so for the future, we are backing an amendment, a backbench amendment to a piece of legislation which will mean in future any road user charging schemes like this would have to be also backed by London boroughs.
“And that’s important because if you look at the mayor of London’s own website for his Project 2030 scheme, he wants to roll out more road user charging schemes, pay-per-mile schemes across London.”
But Mr Khan the claims, telling BBC Breakfast: “I just bumped into Mark Harper as he was leaving the studio and I think he made a couple of factual errors, which is really worth me clarifying.
“If this was about making money, I’d have acceded to the demand from the Government to expand the congestion charge much wider than it currently is. That would have been a cash grab, but I said no.
“If it was a cash grab – as the Government is saying – just to raise money, I’d have acceded to their demand to expand the Ulez without proper consultation and a proper scrappage scheme.”
Mr Khan and supporters of the scheme argue it will prevent premature deaths from pollution and clean up the capital’s air, with any revenues being used to reinvest in public transport.
TfL have predicted there will be no additional money made in several years’ time because the number of non-compliant vehicles will fall, Mr Khan said.
Speaking on Times Radio, the Labour mayor also ruled out a pay-per-mile scheme while he is in office, adding: “It’s not on the agenda, it’s not on the table.
“But it’s no secret that the Government, transport officials in London and around the country, have been looking at it for some time, in relation to a smarter, streamlined service for a variety of reasons, not least because the Government are worried about fuel revenues drying up over the course of the next few years.
“In fact, Boris Johnson, when he was the mayor of London – remember him? – in his transport strategy there was talk about a pay-per-mile scheme.
“When Rishi Sunak was chancellor he asked his Treasury officials to look into these schemes.”
Mr Harper later told the Telegraph the mayor should give drivers a “grace period”, which the paper reported would effectively mean fines were not levied on motorists who drove into the newly-expanded zone on Tuesday and for a period after that, allowing more time to adapt to the changes.
To comply with Ulez standards, petrol cars must generally have been first registered after 2005, while most diesel cars registered after September 2015 are also exempt from the charge.
TfL says nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are compliant.
Separate figures obtained by the RAC show more than 690,000 licensed cars in the whole of London are likely to be non-compliant.
This does not take into account other types of vehicles or those which enter London from neighbouring counties.
However, City Hall claims the RAC data is out of date and inaccurate.