Opinion: Should we have road pricing in London?

Nick Ruxton-Boyle, Director of Environment at Marston Holdings discusses how travel in London has changed since the pandemic and whether road pricing should be implemented in the future. 

Road pricing has been floated as the solution for a wide range of city problems for decades now. I have read numerous academic papers on how a dynamic per mile charge can be applied to ensure that each trip is charged based on the time of day and pollution generated.

I have to say that the current cost of petrol [our closest current ‘pay per mile’ charge] and the way it has caused some people not to take some unnecessary trips, aka behaviour change, is starting to highlight the genuine cost of trip making by car.

I had the pleasure of driving through central London for the first time in about five years recently. I have a little ULEZ (ultra-low emission zone) compliant car and none of the public or active travel alternatives worked for my trip. And I noticed a few things on my travels that I thought I would share with you.

three women riding bicycles on parked

Firstly, the traffic was a little lighter. I worked and cycled in London for many years before the lockdown and have a good gauge of what is busy in the capital. I still averaged less than 15 mph once I got into the congestion charge which made me wonder what I paid my £15 for, that has certainly gone up in the last five years.

There was a lot, and I mean a lot, of electric vehicles. In some queues I was in 50% of the cars were electric, which is great. However, they are only part of the solution and most of them were single occupancy, which makes me think about what all these trips during the traditional working day are? They were also all so big. Why do they need to be so big, huge SUV type things, crazy? I also did not see a lot of charging infrastructure.

I saw a lot of bikes; it was a scorching summer day, so this was a good sign. I did notice however that most of the cyclists were men, which is the case across the country I believe. Despite London’s heroic efforts to implement Scandinavian style infrastructure we still do not see Scandinavian levels of women cycling.

I saw a lot of e-scooters too. The new form of micro mobility, which is still yet to find its place in our trip making matrices. Most of these were being ridden responsibly, but just like other forms of transport there are always those that ruin it for the rest of us.

There were a lot of people out on the street, walking, waiting for buses, enjoying the summer. I’m not used to that many people anymore having moved out of the capital. And last but by no means least I saw way too many pubs I used to drink in, closed.

So, what does this mean for air quality? Less traffic and more electric vehicles will have a positive impact on NOx and other tailpipe pollutants, which we are seeing in some of the reporting over the last two years. The ULEZ has been hailed as an enormous success and the mayor is consulting on extending it out further. Let’s see how the public respond to the current consultation on significantly expanding the zone which has just closed. I’ve certainly seen some mixed responses from the London Boroughs.

Photo by Sharad Sreenivas


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