Will the next Mayor of London commit to per-mile road user charging?

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Something important has just happened. On April 29, London’s think tank, the Centre for London, launched the first ever, detailed proposal on why and how road user charging should be introduced in London. Read its excellent report here: Green Light: Next Generation Road User Charging for a Healthier, more Liveable London

The timing of this proposal is excellent

In a year’s time — May 2020 — London will have its next mayoral election. The main parties have already selected their candidates. The Centre for London argues that London’s various charging schemes – the Congestion Charge, T-Charge and ULEZ – must be brought together into a single, readily-comprehensible system. Whoever is elected will have to undertake this task.

What’s the case for introducing a distance-based road user charging system?

The Centre for London argues powerfully that this provides an opportunity to take advantage of new technologies and introduce a distance-based road user charging. It is the only way to make a real difference to the challenges of the city’s traffic. Londoners’ lives are blighted in three ways by the unintended knock-on effects of the 2.6 million cars and vans registered in our city, and the sheer number of trips made by these vehicles every day.

  • Road casualties Just one fact: 131 people are killed each year on our roads in London and 3,750 seriously injured (2017 figures). That’s two to three people killed every week. And ten people hospitalised with serious injuries every day.
  • Toxic Air Quality The facts are now widely realised by Londoners: More and more asthma; shortened life expectancy, children’s mental development damaged.
  • Congestion Bus passengers and drivers know the frustrations and evidence shows congestion is getting worse.

These problems all require there to be fewer cars on the road, and driving less distance each year. And how to do that? Use the price mechanism, says the Centre – just as we have to encourage drinking less alcohol, smoking less, and most recently,  to discourage sugary drinks. Prices are a powerful way to persuade us to change our habits. Using prices to nudge this change in behaviour means a scheme that charges drivers for every mile they go on our roads. That will prompt Londoners to use public transport instead, and walk or cycle more of their short journeys.

A road user charging system that works for people

The Centre’s Report has all sorts of innovative recommendations:

  • Each Londoner to have their own travel account.
  • An App called City Move on your Smartphone (or laptop etc) showing for every journey the different methods of getting there (bus, tube, train, car, car-sharing, taxi etc), the cost of each way of travelling, and the time each will take.
  • A Level of Service guarantee. If your journey takes a lot longer than the App told you, you pay much less.
  • Mobility Credits to reward Londoners who stop having their own car, or use it less.

The Big Question: Will the candidates for Mayor of London rise above party politics?

Will our political parties recognise that tackling our city’s Big Three road problems is so important that, in the interests of Londoners, they will agree together to commit to investigating Road User Charging and piloting a trial scheme?

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