Vehicles pass a Ulez sign
A sign demarcates a Ulez zone in London. London mayor Sadiq Khan says central government support will be needed to help the capital reach net zero by 2030 and cut toxic air © Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is considering radical new policies to reduce air pollution and meet climate targets, including a huge expansion of the city’s low emission zone for vehicles or pay-as-you-drive road charging.

The policy options revealed on Tuesday are part of a push to cut car journeys in London by 27 per cent to help the city reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Khan said his mission was to “nudge” drivers away from all petrol and diesel cars and into either electric vehicles, public transport, walking or cycling.

He has asked Transport for London, the capital’s transport authority, to study the viability of several options drawn up by consultants Element Energy.

One is a significant expansion of the ultra-low emission zone, or Ulez, to cover all of Greater London, the area Khan oversees, by May 2024.

Drivers of older and more polluting vehicles have to pay a daily levy of £12.50 to drive into the current zone, which was extended in October from a small core of inner London to cover a 380 sq km area inside the north and south circular roads.

Greater London, the 32 boroughs and the City of London, is more than four times this size. It has a population of about 9m.

Another option in the report is a “small” daily charge across Greater London for “all but the cleanest vehicles”, either as a standalone measure or alongside an expanded Ulez.

While the precise definition of a clean vehicle would be decided by TfL, Khan predicted that it would exclude any petrol or diesel car.

The report also suggests a new charge for all non-London registered vehicles driving into the city, a topic which has been discussed with central government as part of separate negotiations over TfL’s pandemic-battered finances.

Any of the options would leave London with some of the most ambitious clean-air policies of any global capital and were welcomed by environmental groups.

But they are also likely to prove contentious. Some residents and businesses have complained that they had struggled to afford to upgrade to less polluting vehicles for the expanded Ulez late last year, despite a scrappage scheme to help with the switch.

Khan said he hoped the proposals would kick-start a “conversation” with Londoners and that politicians “simply don’t have time to waste” to tackle pollution and climate change.

“We have too often seen measures to tackle air pollution and the climate emergency delayed around the world because it’s viewed as being too hard or politically inconvenient, but I’m not willing to put off action we have the ability to implement here in London,” Khan said.

The mayor said central government support would be needed to help the capital reach net zero by 2030 and cut toxic air.

Between 2000 and 2018, workplace and household greenhouse gas emissions in London fell nearly 60 per cent and 40 per cent respectively, but transport emissions dropped just 7 per cent. The number of people travelling by car has returned to pre-pandemic levels, while public transport ridership is still well down.

In the longer term, City Hall believes London will need to switch to a road-user charging system, which would abolish all current road charges and replace them with a system where drivers pay by the mile.

The scheme would mark a transformation in how drivers are taxed and is still several years from being ready as it would require new technology to measure road use. Still, Khan has asked TfL to begin exploring how the system could be developed.

Given the shift to electric vehicles, some transport policy experts expect road user charging to become widespread to help replace lost tax revenue from petrol and diesel duties.

Keith Prince, Conservative London Assembly member, said imposing “further emissions levies would be ludicrous” and that Londoners should not foot the bill for “fighting the climate emergency”.

The pathway to net zero by 2030 will also require 210,000 homes and 15,000 other buildings to be retrofitted each year to make them more energy efficient.

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