Let us agree on one thing: We need to clean up London’s dirty air.
Clean air is a perennial problem for London. My grandparents and parents suffered pea soup fogs. I had headaches in the days of leaded petrol. And today my boy and I struggle with asthma. We need strong action to this killer problem, in central London and beyond.
To his credit, Sadiq Khan has adopted Boris Johnson’s plan for a central Ultra Low Emissions Zone (Ulez) and is planning on expanding it to the North and South Circular Roads in 2021. I support the former but have concerns over the latter. Here’s why.
If we’re going to shift people’s behaviour using expensive taxes (and the Ulez is £62.50 a week) there needs to be an alternative for those without the means to get a new vehicle or pay. The central Ulez is relatively fair to poorer Londoners because central London is well served by cheap public transport.
It is also home to the worst pollution. The central Ulez should help thin our horrible traffic, make our buses a more attractive transport option and improve the quality of life where so many of us either live or work.
Zones 1 and 2 also have the necessary enforcement infrastructure in place; cameras already police the congestion charge, so using the same tools to enforce a central Ulez is easy and inexpensive.
The same isn’t true in outer London, where the infrastructure will have to be built from scratch (at a cost of £130 million), and where our transport network isn’t as comprehensive. Hitting Londoners — many of whom are already struggling with the cost of living — with a tax on driving when they simply have no alternative is unfair; especially when there are other ways we can clean up our air. A tax alone won’t do.
Top of the list is greening our fleet of almost 10,000 buses and our army of taxis. Hybrid taxis are now a reality and more and more hybrid or low-emission buses are being rolled out too, but we need to move to zero-emission technologies more quickly than by the current target date of 2037.
Instead of setting up the massive surveillance system we’ll need to make the bigger Ulez work we should be spending that money expanding our green bus fleet and routes. We could also spend some of this cash upgrading Tube lines. Taking these steps would put a huge dent in poor air quality.
Technology will also play its role. Electric vehicles are here and cities like London should be encouraging their adoption with charging points and light-touch regulation that encourages new transport-sharing schemes.
To be sure, we need strong action. But in his rush to tax, Mr. Khan risks penalising a critical mass of Londoners — especially poorer Londoners — many of whom simply don’t have the money to change their mode of transport on a dime.
- Shaun Bailey is Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.