The T-Charge is a start – but to clean its air, London needs to go much further

Look at this lovely London air pollution. Image: Getty.

London's air is choking the city. Pollution from vehicles is damaging the economy, a threat to public health and the environment. 

Cleaning up London's air will not happen overnight, but this week the city has taken a step in the right direction with the introduction of the new Toxicity charge (T-charge for short). The intention of the mayor's T-charge is clear: discourage older, more polluting vehicles from driving into the centre of town, where pollution levels are at their worst. 

This was the second policy introduced by Sadiq Khan to improve air quality in little over two weeks. Earlier this month, the mayor announced his ambitions for London to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines for particulate matter by 2030.

This is an ambitious yet crucially important target that no UK politician has previously set out to achieve. It is ambitious because WHO guidelines are more rigorous than those set by the EU – and many of London’s busiest roads currently exceed them. 

I have advocated for many years that key to achieving this aspiration is a reduction in the number of vehicles, both personal and commercial. The T-charge is a step towards achieving this. But if London is going to meet WHO air quality standards, the mayor is going to need to continue to push forward pioneering policies.

The Commission on the Future of London’s Roads and Streets – an independent group of transport and environmental experts – published a report of bold measures to tackle air pollution, traffic congestion and ill health experienced by those that live, work and study in the capital.


Its report neatly outlines the shift from mobility as a product (i.e. the private car) to ‘Mobility as a Service’ that considers how to exploit the potential of new transport technologies, to create seamless end-to-end journeys. For example, an integrated transport information and payment system promises to provide status updates and auto re-routing functions to facilitate travel choices, and ensure journeys are safe, efficient and competitively priced.

The introduction of the T-charge, endorsement of London’s ambitious and quantifiable PM2.5 2030 target and the Commission’s radical recommendations to manage the conflicting pressures on road transport and public realm fall within a few weeks of one another. This bodes well for the capital – If the promises and opportunities can skilfully be harnessed and taken forth with political courage and the necessary investment.

But the problem of air pollution and the need to reappraise our transport systems is not confined to London. The same issues face city dwellers in the UK’s other major urban areas, up and down the country and they should not be left behind.

To this end, the ambition and vision for change in London should trigger action from central and other local governments to give all our major cities the potential to become cleaner, healthier and economically successful places to live, work and visit.

Frank Kelly is a Professor of Environmental Health at King's College London.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.