Sadiq Khan plans London toll roads as electric car use rises

Sadiq Khan - Kirsty O'Connor/PA
Sadiq Khan - Kirsty O'Connor/PA

Sadiq Khan is planning to roll out a “Singapore-style” network of toll roads across London once drivers have switched to electric vehicles.

The London mayor said that road pricing will be introduced to replace the congestion charge and levies for the Ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) that could use a network of cameras across the capital.

He told The Telegraph: “What we're looking into is smart road-user charging in the long distance, obviously we can't do that now because the technology is not there.

“The nearest comparator is Singapore. It has got a form of road pricing, but it's not too clunky for London.

“But what I want to do sometime in the future is for there to be technology that enables us to get rid of the congestion charge, get rid of the Ulez. And have a system whereby people are charged on a bespoke basis.”

In Singapore, sensors mounted on gantries over major roads track vehicles passing under them and charge an amount that varies based on time and location, with busy areas costing more to pass through at peak hours of travel. All vehicles which use the toll roads must be fitted with a device that communicates with the sensors.

The mayor’s remarks came as he expanded Ulez across all of the capital - which will include stinging drivers with an extra £12.50 for dropping off loved ones at Heathrow airport, even if they are not venturing any further into London.

The airport already has a £5 drop-off charge, taking the total cost to £17.50 per car if the vehicle does not meet certain emissions criteria.

Mr Khan defended putting Heathrow in his expanded Ulez zone, which will cover all of Greater London and lead to hundreds of thousands of motorists being levied with the charge.

Asked if he was embarking on a war against motorists, Mr Khan said: "Not at all. We've made sure this [Ulez] is not anti-car. This is not anti-people who need to get around our city in our vehicles;  the electricians, the plumbers, the florists."

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC, said the Ulez expansion will be "a hammer blow for desperate drivers and businesses already struggling with crippling fuel costs".

But in response, Mr Khan said: “If these groups cared so much about the drivers, they’d want people to be driving cleaner vehicles."

The Ulez has become the flagship policy of Mr Khan’s mayoralty. His book, "Breathe: Tackling the Climate Emergency", is due to be published in May.

He expanded Ulez to the north and south circular roads last autumn. The Greater London expansion, which will come into force on August 29, will bring the likes of Croydon, Romford and Chipping Barnet into a Ulez zone that will be within sight of Slough in the west and the Kent town of Sevenoaks.

Mr Khan defended forging ahead with Ulez expansion despite 60pc of respondents to a public consultation opposing it. Some 70pc of residents in Outer London were against the idea - and 80pc of Outer London workers were opposed.

Mr Khan said: “I didn't call a referendum; this was a consultation.”

However, Paul Scully, a government minister and Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam, insisted the mayor should have cancelled the plans given the breadth of opposition.

He said: “The Mayor consulted, saying if there was 'overwhelming opposition' he wouldn't extend Ulez.

“Well, 70pc of outer Londoners don't want it; 80pc of business owners in outer London don't want it with the same level of opposition among people working in outer London."

The Ulez expansion follows the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013, a nine-year-old girl who was the first person to have air pollution listed as a cause of death following an asthma attack.

Mr Khan said: “The easy thing to do is to kick the can down the road. If you look at history - and I've studied it recently to refresh myself - in the 1950s, when you could see the smog, there were also people opposing the government to remove power stations from the heart of our city.

“We've seen four million Londoners breathe clean air. There's an additional five million in outer London. And the worst air quality is in outer London. A bigger number of premature deaths. A bigger number of people with respiratory issues. A bigger number of people with asthma, but also the top 10 boroughs with the largest number of deaths are in outer London.

“It's public health, frankly speaking, trumping political expediency.”

To encourage drivers to switch to electric vehicles, Mr Khan also announced a £110m scrappage scheme. This would offer grants for buying EVs or travelcards to those that scrap more polluting cars. Disabled drivers will be entitled to a grace period until 2027.

Mr Khan said any profits generated from the expansion of the Ulez would be used to build “an additional million kilometres of bus routes in outer London”.