Number of cars in central London surged 60% after Sadiq Khan stopped enforcing congestion charge in evenings

The number of cars driven in central London increased by almost 60 per cent after Sadiq Khan stopped enforcing the congestion charge at night, it can be revealed.

Transport for London’s own data shows the dramatic impact of the Mayor’s decision to shorten the £15-a-day C-charge’s operating hours, ending it at 6pm rather than 10pm.

The shorter hours were estimated to deprive TfL of £60 million to £70 million a year in income and sparked concerns that traffic would flood back into the West End in the evening.

Analysis of TfL’s annual travel in London report by the Clean Cities Campaign revealed that more cars are driving into the zone on weekday evenings than during the morning rush hour.

Last February, an average of 12,968 vehicles entered the zone between 6pm-10pm. But by October this had increased to 20,654 — a rise of 59 per cent.

Over the same period, there was a 12 per cent increase in traffic during the 7am-6pm charging hours — suggesting that the £15 levy is having less of a deterrent effect.

Oliver Lord, head of the Clean Cities Campaign, said: “We were baffled when the Mayor decided to end the congestion charge on weeknights because it flew straight in the face of his clean air and climate targets.

“Removing the congestion charge on weeknights has led to a car-led recovery that will worsen our health and do nothing for the economy.”

Andy Beverley, a member of campaign group Westminster Healthy Streets, said: “There is so much evidence to show that the West End economy would thrive with fewer cars driving around.

“It’s a mystery as to why a policy would be enacted to achieve the opposite, especially one that is detrimental to everyone’s health.”

The C-charge’s operating hours had been increased to 10pm in June 2020 — including at the weekend for the first time — as an emergency response to the first wave of the pandemic.

At the time, Mr Khan wanted to avert a toxic air crisis if more Londoners got back in their cars.

But he decided to ease the restrictions in February last year, believing that removing the charge after 6pm would boost the night-time economy.

However he kept the charge at £15 — rather than returning it to the £11.50 pre-pandemic levy — and retained weekend charging, though only between midday and 6pm.

The TfL report stated: “It is clear the changes to the congestion charge have influenced the return of motorised traffic in central London.”

It said that by October, weekday car journeys in the zone were at 98 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

But it said car traffic in the zone at weekends remained “well below the pre-pandemic levels”.

The congestion charge is 20 years old next month – having been introduced by Ken Livingstone on February 17, 2003.

Mr Khan is preparing to announce an increase of about 5.9 per cent in Tube, bus, Overground and Elizabeth line fares – while keeping the C-charge and ultra-low emission zone levies unchanged.

Asked by the Standard why motorists were not facing a rise at the same time as users of public transport, Mr Khan said this was because he decided just over a year ago to keep the C-charge at £15 and because the Ulez will expand to the Greater London boundary in August.

“That is a pretty big disincentive not to drive your car, and to use walk or cycle or public transport,” he said.