Transport for London (TfL) has unveiled plans to tighten the exemption from the Congestion Charge for private hire vehicles (PHVs) by replacing the Ultra Low Emission Discount with a new Cleaner Vehicle Discount.
It is proposed the changes would take effect from April 8, 2019.
Since the Congestion Charge launched 15 years ago, the number of vehicles entering the zone every day has decreased by around 30%.
However, over the same period, the number of different PHVs entering the zone in charging hours has gone from an expected 4,000 a day, to more than 18,000, with knock on impacts on air pollution and congestion in central London, says TfL.
Alex Williams, TfL's director of city planning, explained: “If we are to clean up the capital's toxic air and tackle congestion in central London, we need to have the appropriate incentives as well as the right interventions.
“The Congestion Charge has had a real impact on improving London's roads for all since it launched fifteen years ago.
“However, over that time the availability and standard of low-emission vehicles has greatly advanced and the number of private hire vehicles entering the zone during charging hours has rocketed.
“It is only right that we keep the discounts and exemptions for the scheme under review to make sure it continues to be effective.”
Analysis carried out for TfL indicates that the removal of the PHV Congestion Charge exemption could reduce the number of individual PHVs entering central London by up to 45%.
Removing these vehicles, which often repeatedly circulate within the zone, could reduce congestion and improve journey times for bus passengers, while reducing emissions, claims TfL.
It is proposed that the exemption would remain for wheelchair accessible PHVs, to support TfL's commitment to make the capital an accessible city for all.
A consultation, which was launched on Friday, July 6, seeks views on replacing the Ultra Low Emission Discount with a new phased Cleaner Vehicle Discount.
Andy Boland, Addison Lee Group’s CEO said: “This move suggests that London isn’t open.
“Removing the exemption for private hire vehicles is a revenue-raising measure thinly disguised as an environmental initiative which will have no impact on congestion and will do nothing for air quality.”
He added: “It will hit drivers and operators in the pocket at a time when the industry should be investing in electric vehicles and charging points to make a genuine impact on London’s environment.”
The current Ultra Low Emission Discount applies to cars or vans that meet the Euro 5 standard for air quality, as well as emitting 75g/km or less of CO².
The first phase of changes proposed would mean only zero-emission capable vehicles will not have to pay the Congestion Charge on environmental grounds.
It is expected that, if the changes are made, around 10% of the vehicles currently eligible will no longer receive a discount.
London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, said: “The Transport Committee has been calling for private hire vehicles to be charged the same as other vehicles entering the Congestion Charge Zone so we welcome this consultation. The number of minicabs in London has exploded in recent years.
“However, TfL and the Mayor should understand that the Congestion Charge itself is a very blunt instrument which encourages more road use by those who have paid the one-off charge as drivers may think driving around means they get their money’s worth.
“Even Transport for London’s own estimate of the impact of this policy is that it would only see a reduction of 600 minicabs per day which is a tiny amount relative to the overall number of cars. Only a new, smart road pricing scheme, where people pay relative to how much they use the roads, can cut congestion.”
The consultation closes on Friday, September 28. More details can be found at: tfl.gov.uk/ccyourviews.