London drivers ‘could pay per mile’ so that Sadiq Khan can hit net zero target

Khan has become locked in a fierce row with his Conservative challenger Susan Hall over pay-per-mile charging
Mr Khan has become locked in a fierce row with his Conservative challenger Susan Hall over pay-per-mile charging - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP

Drivers in London could have to pay-per-mile charges by the end of the decade in order to achieve Sadiq Khan’s “accelerated” plan to hit net zero, documents reveal.

In an official report, the Mayor of London said that his ambitious plans for decarbonisation were “only possible” by charging drivers.

Mr Khan recommitted to the plans, published two years ago, last week.

With less than a fortnight to go before the mayoral election on May 2, Mr Khan has become locked in a fierce row with Susan Hall, his Conservative opponent, on whether he plans to introduce pay-per-mile charging.

Last week, The Telegraph reported that the Mayor’s official transport strategy continues to include a commitment to “investigate proposals for the next generation of road-user charging”, despite Mr Khan having had opportunities to update the legally mandated document that was first published in 2018.

Mr Khan has been adamant that he has “ruled out” introducing pay-per-mile charging but the Tories say the mayor has himself admitted that his target to achieve net zero in the capital by 2030 relies on road user charging.

Mr Khan first proposed the 2030 goal for London – a full 20 years ahead of the Government’s 2050 target for the country – in 2020, enshrining it a year later in his 2021 re-election manifesto.

He restated the goal in his latest manifesto, published on Thursday, which says: “We have an ambitious target of making London a net zero-carbon city by 2030 – faster than any comparable city”.

To help him get to the target, Mr Khan previously commissioned research by the sustainability consultancy, Element Energy, which in January 2022 published a report on the potential “pathways” to carbon neutrality.

Net zero-carbon city

The report said that “all scenarios would benefit from London-wide road user charging being introduced as early as possible”, with charging “one of the key early building blocks of any package”.

Mr Khan ended up picking an “accelerated green” pathway that involves reaching 22 per cent “residual emissions” by 2030, which would have to be offset. The element energy report says this needs “London-wide road-user charging” from the “mid-late 2020s”.

In his formal response to the report, which was also published in January 2022, Mr Khan said: “The scale of reductions required – a 27 per cent reduction in vehicle kilometres according to the ‘accelerated green’ scenario – is only possible with some form of road user charging.”

He went on: “Such a system could abolish all existing road user charges – such as the Congestion Charge and Ulez (Ultra Low Emission Zone) – and replace them with a simple and fair scheme where drivers pay per mile, with different rates depending on how polluting vehicles are, the level of congestion in the area and access to public transport.”

The Tories also point out that Mr Khan’s 2023 book, Breathe, says “we have plans to introduce a new, more comprehensive, road user charging system”.

At an election hustings last week, Mete Coban, a Hackney Labour councillor, said that Breathe was a “personal book, it is not the manifesto for London” and that “Sadiq has ruled out pay-per-mile for now”.

Ms Hall told The Telegraph there was “no doubt that he will put [pay-per-mile] in”.

“We’ve seen all the evidence,” she said.

But a spokesman for Mr Khan said: “Sadiq has repeatedly and categorically ruled out pay-per-mile for as long as he is mayor. It will not be introduced in London, despite misleading statements from the Tories saying otherwise.

“The road-user charging scheme was originally proposed by Boris Johnson as mayor and by Rishi Sunak as chancellor.

“Sadiq has repeatedly ruled out any such scheme while he is mayor.”