When will London adopt pay-as-you-go road pricing?

Road pricing in London, the old-fashioned way. Image: Getty.

On 21 June, Sadiq Khan, published a draft of the Mayor's Transport Strategy, and some newspaper editors got very excited. The Sun’s headline claimed “London motorists will pay-as-you-go and won’t have anywhere to park”; the Times was more measured with “Drivers in London face first pay-as-you-go road charge”.  

Unfortunately, neither of these headlines are entirely accurate. So what’s really being mooted in the draft strategy and what might it mean?

What does the Mayor’s Strategy actually say?

Firstly, it subtly states that the mayor will keep “existing and planned road user charging schemes under review”. This refers to the existing Congestion Charge, future Ultra Low Emission Zone and other tolls in the Mayor’s gift.

This is probably an acknowledgement that the congestion charge in 2017 is struggling to deliver the same benefits it did back in 2003. Be it because of advances in technology (for example, the sharp rise in private hire cars­) or consumer behaviour (online shopping and services pushing up van and light goods traffic), traffic has risen again, causing all sorts of difficulty for the capital.

Secondly, it nods to what might replace the Congestion Charge, and says the mayor will ”give consideration” to the development of road user charging. Crucially, it doesn’t say the mayor will develop it, but that he will consider it – and that any scheme would be one that “reflects distance, time, emissions, road danger and other factors in an integrated way”.

Lastly and perhaps most interestingly, it outlines proposals to support London’s boroughs in developing their own schemes, either for parking levies or road user charging. The text here suggests that, rather than some grand London-wide scheme, we could begin to see small scale parking levies or charges in pockets of London. If boroughs are bold enough, these could serve as test beds for what might follow across London.

As a statement of intent, the strategy is very welcome. But the caveated wording equally means it might never happen.

How far off is road charging?

At Sustrans, we have long argued for road pricing and supported the London Assembly, the elected members that scrutinise the mayor, in making the case for it. But in 2008, the UK government backed down from its road pricing plans due to a sizeable petition and a referendum in Manchester which sealed its fate. The London mayor clearly has an eye on recent history.

A change to taxation is always a politically difficult sell, but Londoners might well be ready for it. There’s a trend of declining car ownership (43 per cent of London households do not have access to a car) and an increasing evidence base of the harm to human health from air pollution.

The majority of Londoners travel by public transport, walking or cycling, and there’s strong support for gaining more cycle tracks and reclaiming public space from traffic. Match this with business complaints over the difficulties of London’s congestion, and you have an environment conducive to a big and bold solution such as road user charging.

Our relationship with cars and vehicles could soon change completely. The traditional model of direct and exclusive ownership is being disrupted through on demand options and shared ownership. The ever imminent launch of autonomous vehicles is also unchartered territory, with unknown implications for how we will use motorised vehicles in the future.

Road pricing already is one of the few tools with enough influence to genuinely manage congestion, while remodelling London’s streets around walking and cycling. And in a world of potentially cheap, easy and convenient motor vehicles, road pricing could become a necessity.

Nicholas Sanderson is London policy officer at Sustrans, on whose blog this originally appeared.

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Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.


Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 

“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL