Sadiq Khan investing £150m in ‘secret’ technology that could deliver pay-per-mile road charging

Sadiq Khan has already spent £21 million on the project
Sadiq Khan has already spent £21 million on the project - VICTORIA JONES/PA

Sadiq Khan is investing £150 million on a “secret” technology project capable of charging motorists a pay-per-mile road tax, The Telegraph can reveal.

The scheme, called Project Detroit, was set up by Transport for London (TfL) to create a “more sophisticated… new core technology platform for road-user charging”.

A series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests show 157 staff are now working solely on the scheme, with some engineers being paid more than £100,000 a year.

In total £21 million has already been spent on the project, which started in 2021, but the “platform has an estimated final cost of between £130 million to £150 million”.

But Conservatives at City Hall claim Project Detroit, which is creating a single “road user charging” platform for the congestion charge, Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) and Low Emission Zone, could be used to introduce a charge based on the distance driven in cars within London.

One FoI response from TFL says: “The Detroit platform has the capability to be extended and we will be looking to build the system flexibly so that other forms of charging based on distance, vehicle type, etc could be catered for if a decision was made in future to do so.”

In 2018, the mayor’s Transport Strategy said an “integrated pay-per-mile charge could replace pre-existing schemes”, such as the congestion charge.

However, the furore over the expansion of Ulez and claims Labour is waging a “war on motorists” saw the mayor recently insist he would not introduce a pay-per-mile tax on cars in the capital.

Third term

Peter Fortune, the Conservative London Assembly Member for Bexley and Bromley, insisted that Project Detroit paves the way for pay-per-mile charging.

“Sadiq Khan can deny it all he wants but it’s pretty clear he plans to introduce pay-per-mile road-user charges for every motorist if he wins a third term,” he said.

“He has a history of saying one thing and doing the opposite. Remember he told us he wouldn’t expand Ulez, then did precisely that.

“Sadiq Khan relies on road-user charges to plug the black hole in TfL finances. Motorists will pay TfL £1 billion in Ulez and other road-user charges this year.

“As the number of non-Ulez compliant vehicles inevitably falls, he’ll need to find new sources of revenue. He recently confirmed plans to charge motorists at least £123 million annually from 2025 for using the Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels.

TfL income

“Pay-per-mile is next in providing a steady source of income for TfL.

“He has confirmed TfL is developing new technology to integrate Ulez, congestion and other charges into a single payment. Charging motorists for each mile they drive won’t be difficult once this technology is in place.”

The latest FoI responses from TfL show how 41 of the 157 staff dedicated to the scheme are permanent. Of those, three are Band 4 employees earning between £76,000 and £111,800, a further 33 are in Band 3 paid between £58,300 and £85,8000, while five are on Band 2 wages, earning between £51,000 and £75,700. Meanwhile, 89 are “third-party consultants”.

The number of staff working on the scheme, begun in 2021, has increased from 97 in December 2022 to its current 157.

Ruled out

Mr Fortune added: “I know the team includes experts working on a pay-per-mile road-user charging scheme. It’s a very secretive project. I asked to visit the project team last year. I’m still waiting for an invite. ”

Asked to release “any correspondence sent to the mayor” regarding Project Detroit, TfL’s FoI team replied: “We do not hold any correspondence sent to the mayor during the requested period in which Project Detroit is referred to.”

A TfL spokesperson said: “Any work carried out or staff hired as part of Project Detroit has been in relation to TfL’s existing road-user charging schemes.

“This was part of TfL’s wider work to bring in-house the currently outsourced system for which the contract expires in 2026.

“Pay-per-mile charging has been ruled out by the mayor and no such scheme is on the table or being developed.”