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Sadiq Khan denies plan for London pay-per-mile road scheme

The mayor’s own transport strategy is one of the documents setting out the possibility of new road-charging plans, but he says it is “not on the table”

Sadiq Khan has been criticised for claiming that pay-per-mile road charging is “not on his agenda” despite it appearing in his own transport strategy as a proposal for consideration.

The mayor of London described as “nonsense” claims that the Labour Party has secret plans to charge motorists for every journey following the extension of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez).

He tweeted: “Let me be crystal clear – a pay-per-mile scheme is not on the table and not on my agenda.”

However, the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, published in 2018, states that just such a scheme is being considered.

Proposal 21 of the document says: “The mayor, through Transport for London (TfL), will investigate proposals for the next generation of road user charging systems. These could replace schemes such as the ultra low emission zone.”

It added: “The mayor will consider the appropriate technology for any future schemes, and the potential for a future scheme that reflects distance, time, emissions, road danger and other factors in an integrated way.”

Piers Corbyn, brother of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was among those who attended protests against the Ulez expansion

In addition, a TfL document called “Next Steps for Reducing Emissions from Road Transport,” from January last year, states that pay-per-mile charging is one of “four broad potential approaches”.

It describes the possibility of an “entirely new and simple London-wide charging mechanism” that would be “based on distance (eg kilometres or miles) travelled.”

TfL has already recruited “significant” numbers of software engineers and other technical specialists to examine this option, although they will also be working to replace outside contractors used to run the existing Ulez scheme.

Khan himself has previously stated that road charging is a possibility later this decade. Last year, during a London Assembly question time, Caroline Pidgeon, a Liberal Democrat and the deputy chair of the London Assembly’s transport committee, asked the mayor whether now was a good time to consider “a smart road pricing system” given the dire state of TfL’s finances.

Khan responded: “The soonest we could bring in revenues, assuming all the other hurdles were overcome in relation to the technology, the scale, the cost and so forth, would be around 2025-26.”

This is the year before the mayor’s office expects the expanded Ulez not to make any profit. From Tuesday, every vehicle across the capital that does not meet the emissions standard will be charged £12.50 a day to drive within the zone, generating up to £300 million over the next year, but the number of non-compliant vehicles is expected to fall over time, meaning profits are projected to fall to zero by 2027.

Neil Garratt, the Conservative assembly member for Croydon & Sutton, said: “The mayor claims he has no plans on the table to charge all vehicles per mile, but he certainly has such plans under the table, or in a drawer, or tucked in his back pocket. We know he’s had people working on them for at least a year. As with London-wide Ulez, he will deny he’s considering it right up to the day it’s announced and by then it will be too late.”

Peter Fortune, the Conservative assembly member for Bexley and Bromley, said Khan’s claims were “risible”.

He added: “In 2021 Sadiq Khan denied he was planning to expand Ulez to outer London — the very Ulez expansion to outer London that is happening this week.”

The mayor’s office said that Khan had promised Londoners that he would not move the goalposts on emissions standards and they could be confident when they bought Ulez-compliant vehicles that that would remain the case.

A spokesman added: “It’s completely normal for all sorts of policies to be considered by government departments, TfL and other bodies. TfL plan for different scenarios including future mayoralties and government requests.

“Sadiq hopes to achieve his green objectives by a range of methods including increasing the quality and availability of public transport, transitioning to zero-emission vehicles and supporting people to walk and cycle more with better infrastructure.”

Anneliese Dodds, the Labour Party chairwoman, said a pay-per-mile scheme had “never been Labour’s policy”.

She told Times Radio: “It’s not Sadiq Khan’s policy either. This seems to be a pretty strange rumour to be honest, one that does not match reality. It’s not a plan from Labour.”

The prospect of pay-per-mile charging was previously raised by the Department for Transport for heavy goods vehicles, when Conservative Chris Grayling was transport secretary. The 2017 proposals did not end up going ahead, but industry figures feared at the time it was a “precursor to road-user charging for every vehicle”.

Speculation is growing that whoever is in power from 2030 will have to consider alternative ways to raise revenue from motorists because the tax income from fuel duty will decline as a result of the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. The RAC estimates that revenues from this tax could fall by about £5 billion between 2030 and 2035.

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