The ‘T-charge’ shows how London is leading the way in tackling congestion and pollution

Eugh: London traffic. Image: Getty.

With the government’s March 2018 deadline for places to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide fast-approaching, there is much that UK cities can learn from London’s steps to address pollution – in particular, the recent introduction of the new ‘Toxicity Charge’ (or T charge) on 23 October.

The new charge is part of a long line of measures put in place by the capital to address two of the biggest costs of its economic success: congestion and air pollution. London has some of the highest levels of pollution in the UK, which contribute towards shortening the lives of Londoners by between nine and sixteen months, and kill thousands of people every year. Over the past 15 years, the city has taken a number of steps to tackle these problems:

  • In 2003, it introduced the London congestion charge zone, which remains as one of the largest of its kind in the world. This aims to reduce vehicle usage in central areas of the city, and to raise investment funds for London’s transport system.
  • The low emission zone was introduced in 2008, which exempts low emission vehicles from the congestion charge area – meaning that only vehicles that do not conform to higher emission standards are subject to the charge.
  • London has introduced low emission buses on some routes, and around 5,000 buses are set to be upgraded to meet the latest ultra-low Euro 6 emissions standard, cutting pollution caused by buses by up to 95 per cent.
  • The new T-charge aims to build on these measures by placing an emission surcharge for the most polluting vehicles entering central London, the first such surcharge introduced in a UK city (and to our knowledge, in any city across the world). With the aim of phasing out older Euro 4 vehicles – that is, cars which were registered before 2006 – it will introduce an extra £10 fee on top of the current congestion charge for vehicles that do not meet the minimum exhaust emission standards to enter London’s low emission zone. Transport for London (TfL), which runs the charging scheme, estimates that 40 per cent of drivers subject to the emission surcharge will upgrade their vehicle and 7 per cent will stop travelling into the zone.

The charge will also offer a significant additional source of income for TfL, on top of the £164m in net income generated by the congestion charge in 2016-17. This can be reinvested in other clean air measures, such as improving public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure. And because it’s a ‘bolt-on’ on to the current congestion charge, very little upfront cash is needed to implement it.

Yet the issue of poor air quality isn’t just a problem in London. Twenty-eight other places across the UK, including Leeds, Birmingham and Nottingham, recorded illegal levels of pollution last year, particularly in their most congested roads and city centres. These places are now required to submit their clean air strategy by March 2018, but none as yet have followed London’s lead by introducing measures such as a congestion charge (Durham is the only other place with this kind of scheme).

The capital’s policies therefore offer a way forward for these other cities – both in tackling congestion and pollution, and in generating income which can be invested in more environmentally-friendly modes of transport.

Adeline Bailly is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared

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Mayor Marvin Rees' hope for Bristol: A more equitable city that can 'live with difference'

“I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city," Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

When the statue of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn from its plinth and dumped in Bristol’s harbour during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests on 7 June, mayor Marvin Rees was thrust into the spotlight. 

Refraining from direct support of the statue’s removal, the city’s first black mayor shared a different perspective on what UK home secretary Priti Patel called “sheer vandalism”:

“It is important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity,” he said in a statement at the time. “I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”

48 year-old Rees, who grew up in the city, has since expanded on his approach to the issue in an interview with CityMetric, saying “wherever you stand on that spectrum, the city needs to be a home for all of those people with all of those perspectives, even if you disagree with them.”

“We need to have the ability to live with difference, and that is the ethnic difference, racial difference, gender difference, but also different political perspectives,” he added. “I have been making that point repeatedly – and I hope that by making it, it becomes real.” 

What making that point means, in practice, for Rees is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to city governance.

Weeks after the toppling of Colston’s statue, a new installation was erected at the same spot featuring Jen Reid, a protester of Black Lives Matter. However, the installation was removed, as “it was the work and decision of a London-based artist, and it was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed”, Rees said in a statement.

Bristol may appear a prosperous city, logging the highest employment rate among the UK’s “core cities” in the second quarter of 2019. But it is still home to many areas that suffer from social and economic problems: over 70,000 people, about 15 percent of Bristol’s population, live in what are considered the top 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in England. 

In an attempt to combat this inequality, Rees has been involved in a number of projects. He has established Bristol Works, where more than 3,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are given work experience opportunities. And is now setting up a commission on social mobility. “Launching a Bristol commission on social mobility is not only about social justice; it [should not be] possible for a modern city to leave millions of pounds worth of talent on the shelf, just because the talent was born into poverty,” he says.

The mayor is also a strong supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explaining that SDGs offer a way to talk about sustainability within a framework of many issues, ranging from climate change and biodiversity to women’s issues, domestic violence, poverty and hunger.

“What we want to achieve as a city cannot be done as a city working alone,” he insists. “We don’t want to benefit only people inside Bristol, we want to benefit the planet, and the SDGs offer a framework for a global conversation,” suggesting that a vehicle should be launched that allows cities to work together, ideally with organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund involved. 

Greater collaboration between cities would be “beneficial in terms of economies of scale,” he argues, “as cities could get more competitive prices when buying materials for building houses or ordering buses, rather than each city acquiring a few of them at a higher price.”

In an attempt to focus on the long term, Rees launched One City Plan in January 2019, setting out a number of goals for Bristol to achieve by 2050.

Investing in green infrastructure to meet 2030 carbon emission targets spelled out in the SDGs is a key area here, with the mayor noting that transport, mass transit and energy are important sectors looking for further investment and government funding: “The sooner we meet our targets, the sooner we will benefit from them, and invest in sectors that will provide people with jobs.”

Jobs, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, are of paramount importance to Rees. Bristol’s council wants to ensure that any government money given to the city will be quickly passed on to businesses to help prevent redundancies, he says, though given that mass job losses seem inevitable, reskilling options are also being looked into, such as through a zero-carbon smart energy project called City Leap.

Another important area for investment in Bristol is affordable housing, with 9,000 homes already built under Rees’s term of office. “People could build a base for life with affordable housing, [and this would mean] their mental health would be better because they have a safe place,” he explains. “Children in families that have a home that is affordable are more likely to able to eat and to heat, [and they are more likely to enjoy a] better education.”

Taken in the round, Rees’s agenda for Bristol is its own blueprint for shaping history. The Colston statue now lies in safe storage, with a local museum likely to play host to the controversial monument. But the Black Lives Matters protestors were fighting for a fairer, more equal future, and it is here where Rees is determined to deliver.

Sofia Karadima is a senior editor at NS Media Group.