Only one in 10 firms in London support widening the congestion charge zone – but a third are open to a new system of “smart” road pricing, a survey suggests.
The poll, commissioned by the London Chamber of Commerce, comes amid increasing speculation that a new system of charging drivers according to how far they travel could replace the £15-a-day C-charge over the longer term.
Expanding the congestion charge zone from central London to the North and South Circular roads by October next year has been proposed by the Government as an option in its discussions with the Mayor over a second Covid bailout for Transport for London.
It came as unions and employers representing 435,000 health workers in London wrote to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urging him not to impose conditions as part of the bailout that made the capital a less attractive place for low-paid staff to work - such as a larger C-zone or inflation-busting fare rises.
They said: “We are very concerned that the types of conditions currently being reported as part of the proposed bailout will unfairly hit health and care staff financially and, critically, could undermine attempts by the NHS and the social care sector to retain and recruit staff in London against the tide of rising living costs.
“Staff must not face any additional financial barriers which will impact their ability to live and work in the capital. Any conditions imposed must not further compromise our health and care system’s ability to provide safe and effective patient care.”
Today’s poll, by Savanta ComRes and based on the responses from 503 businesses in the capital, found that only 13 per cent supported expanding the C-zone to the suburbs.
But 33 per cent backed the idea of a charge that varied according to the time of day, while 31 per cent supported a system based on distance travelled and levels of congestion.
A total of 16 per cent said the status quo should be maintained while 14 per cent called for black cabs to be forced to pay the daily levy, which applies from 7am-10pm seven days a week.
Mayor Sadiq Khan, asked by Green London Assembly member Sian Berry last week about “smart” road pricing, said road pricing would not solve TfL’s need for a £4.9bn bailout for the next 18 months but added that “nothing should be ruled out, vis-a-vis the long term, particularly with technical innovations”.
A 2017 report by the City Hall-commissioned London Finance Commission said that “any extension of road pricing in London could generate high yields, due to the significant traffic volumes” but warned the Government may introduce a national system – and claim all the revenues.
Richard Burge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce, said that expanding the C-zone risked harming the capital’s economic recovery from covid.
He said: “It’s clear that immediate government funding is required to keep the network running, but… our research shows degrees of business appetite to look at the likes of smart road charging, or congestion charging that varies by time of day.”