Congestion Charge Changes

The Mayor of London has announced a number of proposed changes to the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax). This tax was first introduced in 2002 when the charge to enter the central London zone was set at £5. It has subsequently been increased several times with the last change being to raise it to £15 and extend the hours to most of the day and to weekends.

That change was proposed to be a temporary measure to ensure that traffic did not increase during the pandemic as people avoided public transport but was also clearly intended to help with TfL’s budget problems.

It is now proposed to make the £15 charge permanent, but to reduce the charging hours during weekdays to 0700-1800 and weekend hours to 1200-1800.

Residents’ discounts will be reinstated but the previous discount for using Autopay is not reinstated.

You can see details of these changes with a link to the public consultation on this web page: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/congestion-charge-changes . PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU RESPOND TO THE CONSULTATION

Comment: As is usual, the Mayor breaks a commitment that the increased charge was temporary so as to make more money. The pandemic is effectively over so there is no longer any justification for the increase. The reduction in hours may give some assistance to entertainment venues in the evening but that is a minor benefit to relatively few people in comparison with the number likely be affected by the increased tax.

The congestion charge has never proved to be effective in reducing traffic congestion and is a very expensive way of collecting more tax. Claims for its success are simply wrong.

The congestion tax should be removed!

See https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm for more details on the history of this tax and the evidence for its failure to achieve its objectives.

Roger Lawson

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Mayor Raking it in from ULEZ Charges

The “This is Money” web site have published a very good article on how the ULEZ charge is generating large amounts of tax money for the Mayor and TfL in London. It reports, based on data obtained by the AA, that the Mayor raked in £107 million in the first year of the ULEZ. See link below for the article.

We pointed out when the ULEZ charge was first proposed that this was about raising money for TfL to plug a big hole in their budgets. It was not primarily about improving the health of Londoners as claimed because any cost/benefit analysis indicates it is very poor value for money. See Reference 2 below for links to past articles.

With the ULEZ expanding in October and likely to affect another 300,000 drivers of older vehicles, the tax income raised will grow exponentially.

This is basically an attack on car drivers, particularly those who cannot afford to buy a new car, such as the elderly or poor.

Implementing the expanded ULEZ will cost £130 million in capital expenditure and by 2030 the expected benefit in reduced emissions is forecast to be zero as the vehicle fleet changes. But will the taxes ever be removed? We doubt it.

In reality the Mayor will plead poverty as he regularly does and the ULEZ and Congestion Charges will increase.

Reference 1: This is Money article: https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-9792587/London-rakes-107m-extra-ULEZ-zone-expands-14-weeks.html

Reference 2: FFDF Articles on the ULEZ: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/environment.htm

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Government Powers Ahead with Decarbonising Transport

An announcement from the Government today spells out the world’s first “greenprint” for decarbonising all modes of domestic transport by 2050.

Plans include a ban on all new “polluting” road vehicles by 2040 and net zero aviation emissions by 2050. The former includes the phasing out of all petrol and diesel HGVs by 2040 – subject to consultation. Consultation will be very important because the practicality of HGVs that need to go long distances without repeated refuelling is important economically. LGVs can probably be electrified but HGVs need to use alternative fuels.

The 2050 commitment applies to aviation emissions and a consultation on that is also launched under the “Jet Zero” banner. It is clear that new technologies and aviation fuels need to be developed to achieve a major reduction in aviation emissions. Whether such changes to reach zero emissions are achievable is not at all clear and the cost, which might be very considerable, is not given.

Similarly the costs of electrification of all rail transport is likely to be enormous as the UK lags far behind other European countries in that regard. Only about 50% of the UK rail network is currently electrified.

The Daily Telegraph has speculated on a new system of road pricing to replace the £30 billion currently raised through taxes on petrol and diesel. But the latest Government announcement leaves out any mention of how that issue is to be tackled.

As with all good political missives, the Government document contains lots of fine words about how the environment will be improved while not inhibiting us from travelling when or where we want (for example, taking holiday flights). It’s a policy statement in essence that leaves out all the detail of how this nirvana is to be achieved and at what cost. It ignores a lot of the practical difficulties. But it’s worth reading to get an impression of what might happen in the next few years.

Government GreenPrint Paper: https://tinyurl.com/8ymtap38

Telegraph Article on “Road Toll Confusion”: https://tinyurl.com/edxxh4rp

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The Mayor of London’s Agenda and New York’s Congestion Charge

Our new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has issued a tweet that spells out his priorities. This is what he said:

Okay—here’s the plan:

🔨 Create + protect jobs
💰 Help businesses grow
🌳 Tackle the climate crisis
🏠 Build new homes
🚓 Invest in policing
🎬 Create opportunities for young people
🏆 Celebrate diversity
💪🏽 Root out inequality
⚽ Deliver an amazing Euro2020

<END>

These are all fine words, but rather like the Government’s policies as outlined in the Queen’s Speech, rather short on detail. It also contains phrases like “celebrate diversity” that are not just meaningless, but do not lead to specific actions or budget allocations. Many people would argue that there is too much diversity in London and that leads to social incoherence, and why should the Mayor be spending time or money on celebrating it anyway? We all know that the population of London is now very diverse and we have all come to accept that. So what is there to celebrate?

One big issue is certainly the comment that he plans to “Tackle the Climate Crisis”. Is there one? If you look at many London boroughs who have introduced Low Traffic Neighbourhoods they have justified this on the basis of tackling climate change. They argue that it is important to cut emissions from vehicles when doing so will have minimal impact on the climate. Climate may be influenced by man-made emissions (although some dispute that) but cutting vehicle emissions in London will have a negligible influence. Emissions in London come from many different sources and directly relate to the population of London and their requirements for buildings, heating and transport. The Mayor’s policies imply more businesses, more buildings to accommodate them, more homes for the workers and more infrastructure to support them so this is all contradictory.

Only if the Mayor adopted a policy of reducing the population of London while providing more infrastructure – particularly in terms of transport – would the environment be improved.

New York, New York

It’s interesting to look at another major city which has similar transport problems – a heavily congested road network and a public transport system in deficit. Just like the impact of the Covid epidemic on the budgets of Transport for London, New York is facing a major problem. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) budget (which covers the subway and some bus services and is equivalent to TfL in London) is projecting a deficit of $16 billion for the period 2020 to 2024, even after major cuts in services.

New York is planning to introduce congestion charging to cut traffic and of course generate some income for the MTA – as much as $15 billion by charging $10 to $15 dollars per day for those entering Manhattan. But the adjacent state of New Jersey, from which many people commute into New York City, is threatening retaliation. Senator Laguna and Assemblyman Tully are developing legislation that would impose tolls on non-residents driving between New Jersey and New York. Mr Tully said “We should not be used to fund the MTA”.

This is equivalent to Essex or Kent imposing a tax on Londoners who drive into their counties if Sadiq Khan imposed a toll on those who drive into London from outside the M25 – as he is proposing. This is surely a very good response to such a threat!

County Councils that border the M25 should surely be asking the Government for such legislation, or asking the Government to stop this taxation without representation.

Roger Lawson

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Congestion Charge Rise to be Scrapped?

In June 2020 the central London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) was raised to £15 per day and made effective for 24 hours per day for 7 days per week. This was declared to be a “temporary” change to cope with the impact on TfL finances of the Covid pandemic and to discourage car use which might rise in the short term as people avoided public transport. Mayor Sadiq Khan blamed the Government for forcing him to make the change although Government Ministers said it was solely his decision.

But on the 26th April Khan said in a hustings meeting that “I will be negotiating with the Government so we don’t have to have it [the increased congestion charge] seven days a week or up until 10pm”.

But Conservative Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey said this to City AM in response: “Sadiq Khan is making things complicated. But the truth is very simple.

The Mayor decided to raise the Congestion Charge and the Mayor can choose to reverse it – today. The fact that he isn’t tells us everything we need to know.

Khan is trying to win votes by promising to cut the very taxes he raised. That’s like an arsonist trying to get out of jail by promising to put out the fire he started”.

Bailey went on to reiterate a pledge he made last June, saying: “As Mayor, I’ll reverse the Congestion Charge hike on day one, no consultation, no studies, no ifs, not buts. This is the fresh start that London needs.”

Comment: From my personal experience of driving into central London for hospital visits in the last few weeks, the raised congestion tax made absolutely no difference. When nobody was going to work in central London the traffic disappeared. When they returned the traffic was worse than it was before the lock-downs.

This looks like another attempt to win votes by bribing the electorate from Sadiq Khan which he has been so adept at doing in the past. But will he actually remove the “temporary” increase and extended times? His statement is ambiguous to say the least.

I suggest Shaun Bailey is more to be trusted on this than Sadiq Kahn, something to bear in mind when voting next week.

Roger Lawson

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Tax Rises from the Mayor of London

I just received a letter from Shaun Bailey. No this is not a personal Xmas card from the Conservative Party candidate for Mayor because I think everyone in the street received a copy. It’s a note about the current Mayor’s proposals to raise the Council Tax Precept that all Londoners pay to fund his operations. This is some of what the note says:

IF YOU DO NOT TAKE ACTION, YOUR MAYORAL COUNCIL TAX WILL RISE BY 21.2%

The Mayor of London levies a tax called the Mayoral Precept. Every household in London pays this tax as part of their council tax bill.

This tax is bundled together with your local council tax. And the Mayor’s portion is set to rise by 21.2%.

To stop this tax rise, you must take action. Please visit www.stopkhanstaxhike.com

Sadiq Khan has already raised your mayoral council tax by 20.3% since 2016. But now he’s planning to raise it even further — in order to pay for his waste at TfL.

Over the last four years, he accumulated £9.56 billion in wasteful spending at Transport for London.

£159 million on free travel for friends of TfL staff. £828 million on pension overpayments. £5.25 billion on Crossrail delays.

Now TfL is on its second bailout. And in the second bailout’s settlement letter, Sadiq Khan revealed that he’s planning to pass the cost on to Londoners with a rise in council tax.

<END>

That’s not the only way the Mayor is planning to raise taxes. He is proposing to raise as much as £500 million every year by charging anyone who drives into Greater London from outside the metropolis. He has already asked Transport for London (TfL) to look into such a plan which might involve a daily fee of £3.50 – but that could soon be raised once the tax is in place and cameras installed to pick it up.

Mr Khan argues that public transport users subsidise road maintenance in the capital as some of that expenditure comes from public transport fares. But bus users should certainly contribute to road maintenance surely?

In addition he is ignoring the fact that technically most of London’s roads are maintained by local boroughs. In fact he is simplifying the issues of where the money comes from because much of it comes from central Government.

The impact on outer London boroughs, and those who live in the wider South-East, of such a tax could be devastating. There are three groups of people who would be badly affected: 1) Those who drive into London for employment (not many do so to central London, but those who work in the outer London boroughs often do so); 2) those who drive into outer London Tube or Rail stations to park as part of their commute (“rail heading” as it is called); and 3) those who drive into outer London “town” centres such as Orpington and Bromley for shopping. Many service providers to businesses in London also visit from outside such as plumbers, accountants, etc.

Perhaps it is worth pointing out that none of these people will get a vote to decide who is Mayor of London. In effect it is taxation without representation, a good enough cause to start a revolution.

It really is time that central Government takes over the government of London and the management of its finances as Sadiq Khan has made a complete hash of it. Allowing him to tax those who live outside London but just want to visit it will cause a mass exodus of businesses and people from London. It will also be the final nail in the coffin of many High Street retail businesses in London.

The Mayor of London has already introduced the LEZ, ULEZ and central Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) which have been primarily driven by the Mayor’s desire to build an empire based on raising taxes from Londoners rather than reducing congestion or air pollution. The latest proposals are yet another feeble excuse for money grabbing.

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Congestion Charge Extension – Who Is Telling the Truth?

Readers are probably aware of the financial difficulties of Transport for London (TfL) and hence Sadiq Khan. The fall in income has been devastating as people have avoided public transport because of the epidemic while TFL have continued to run the same frequency of services on buses and the underground. As these services are the main sources of income to TfL while costs have remained unchanged, the result has been a ballooning operational deficit. The Mayor is now asking for billions of pounds to keep TfL afloat.

He alleges that the Conservative Government is forcing him to extend the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) as a condition for supplying more money while the Government says that is only one of several “proposals” that they are asking the Mayor to consider to put the finances back in a stable position.

The Prime Minister alleged in the Commons that TfL had been put into a state of “bankruptcy” which was “entirely the fault of the current Labour Mayor of London” due to his policy on fares. But the Mayor described the Prime Minister as lying and has defended his financial record, blaming the problems purely on the Covid-19 epidemic. It’s basically a “blame game” so beloved of politicians.

But the reality is that I wrote negatively in January (i.e. before the epidemic hit) on the subject of TfL budgets and finances (see Reference 1 below). The article included these comments:

“Despite cutting operating costs, one of the few good things reported, there will be deficits of £307m, £493m and £513m in TfL (after “capital renewals”) for this year and the two following ones and barely break-even in 2022/23. As a result, the Mayor will have to substantially increase borrowing to cover that and large amounts of capital expenditure for both Crossrail and other network improvements. That includes £2.2 billion this year and next year, followed by £1.2 billion each year in subsequent years. Total borrowing will reach £12.3 billion within 2 years” and “…..the Business Plan may be totally unrealistic. In summary the Business Plan and Budget demonstrate an incompetent Mayor and senior management at TfL who wish to get us all cycling, walking or using public transport while the road network gets worse”.

But ignoring the blame game and past history, what can the Mayor realistically do to avoid TfL becoming bankrupt? These are the main options as I see them:

  1. Reduce services and cut staff (the major proportion of their costs) in TfL so as to match income.
  2. Increase bus and underground fares substantially, a politically unpopular choice as the Mayor has lauded his past fare freezes.
  3. Increase the Mayor’s precept on Council Tax, which would raise Council Tax for all Londoners. A politically unpopular choice for the Mayor as he comes up for re-election in May 2021 and local councils would blame the Mayor for the increases in Council Tax they have to impose.
  4. Expand the Congestion Charge over a wider area, or increase the charges on that or for the ULEZ – the latter is already planned to expand to the North/South Circular in October 2021.

Expanding the Congestion Charge zone would be deeply unpopular with drivers and there are enormous numbers of people who live within the North/South Circular and drive vehicles (about 3 million people with probably 50% of households owning a car).  This is what Deputy Transport Mayor Heidi Alexander said at a recent TfL meeting: “Neither the Mayor nor I can see how it would be right to charge people £15 to drive a mile from Wandsworth to Clapham, or from Catford to Lewisham from October of next year …”.

There have already been over 100,000 signatures on a petition opposing an expansion of the Congestion Charge – see http://chng.it/7zNp6sHhm8 . Please sign it!

The Mayor is therefore faced with some very tough choices, hence his approach of blaming the Government no doubt. But it is his responsibility to make the choice.

I suspect there is going to be a mixture of all the above, or some other compromise, if the Government simply refuses to hand out more cash with no view of when TfL finances will be stable. That is something it should definitely not do.

The Freedom for Drivers Foundation has of course consistently opposed the Congestion Charge, a tax under another name. It is very expensive to collect and has not reduced congestion as claimed. See this web page for an analysis of the Charge and why we still oppose it: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm

We suggest the Mayor should choose options 1 to 3 only. It is not clear to us why drivers should pay to keep public transport afloat – they already pay billions more in taxes than the cost to maintain the roads. In reality part of the problem is that transport in central London is heavily used by commuters from outside London who do not pay the realistic costs of the provision of bus and underground services. Buses for example are subsidised by almost £1 billion per year in London, which is no doubt politically popular (even Boris Johnson bottled bringing it under control when Mayor). But that is one lunacy that should surely be stopped.

TfL Budgets have been driven by political populism for many years when it is in essence a business and should be run like one. Why should TfL who obtain income from public transport also have control of the road network? The result is bias against other forms of transport. It is surely time to remove TfL from the Mayor’s control.

Griff Rhys Jones wrote a very interesting article for the Spectator recently about the dire London transport situation. One of his comments was “The most effective planet-saving reforms would be to prevent commercial ‘centres’ and to spread ‘live-work’ across the entirety of London. Instead, we are once again pursuing outmoded and outdated ‘visions’. (Or ‘fantasies’, as London-wide protests by ordinary working people are calling them.) Our capital is a success because people inhabit it”. See Reference 2 below.

The Mayor’s Transport Strategy has certainly been very defective, apart from the budget lunacy and that is one reason why London was so vulnerable to the virus.

Roger Lawson.

Reference 1: TfL Budgets. https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2020/01/17/tfl-business-plan-and-budget-for-the-next-5-years-more-of-the-same/

Reference 2: Spectator Article: https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/london-s-war-on-motorists-isn-t-helping-anybody

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Extremism in Southwark

The London Borough of Southwark held a cabinet committee meeting last night (20/10/2020). One of the items on the agenda (Item 8) for discussion was petitions that have been submitted about the road closures in Dulwich. There were two petitions considered – the first one which collected 2,475 signatures asked for the immediate removal of the road closures while the second one which supported the closures received 29 signatures. One would have thought that was a pretty conclusive view of public opinion in Dulwich.

Councillor Catherine Rose who is responsible for “Leisure, Environment and Roads” spoke in support of the closures. Her speech was full of platitudes about the need to tackle climate change and reduce air pollution.

The problem that the closures of roads such as Burbage will prevent east-west travel in Dulwich and divert traffic onto the South Circular is being ignored. Businesses in Dulwich village are clearly being adversely affected. It seems unlikely that the closures will be removed soon, if ever.

Item 22 on the agenda was consideration of a report on Air Quality and the recommendations therein. These include:

A – The roll-out of a School Streets programme (i.e. timed road closures near schools).

B – To “drive down” total private vehicle usage by 2030 so that only a few electric vehicles remain.

C – To lobby for expansion of the ULEZ not just to the South Circular but wider – as far as the M25.

D – To increase the cost of car parking, and reduce parking provision by 50%.

E – To implement Low Traffic Neighbourhoods borough wide.

F – To lobby for the introduction of road user charging by the GLA.

These measures, if adopted, will mean the death of the use of motor vehicles in Southwark. Southwark is of course a large borough which stretches from central London to Dulwich in the south. Some parts are much better covered by public transport than others. The needs of those who rely on motor vehicles, or the preferences of those who live in the wealthier parts of the borough are simply being ignored. Those people too old to cycle or walk far are advised to leave the borough, sooner or later.

It is in summary a good example of the extremism that is now pervading the councils of some London boroughs.

You can watch the Cabinet Meeting on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/user/southwarkcouncil

Or read the agenda and supporting documents here: http://moderngov.southwark.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=302&MId=6663

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Motorists to Pay for Sadiq Khan’s Financial Incompetence?

Newspapers have reported that the Government is imposing tough conditions for another bail-out of Transport for London (TfL). TfL are in severe financial difficulties as most of their income comes from fare paying passengers on buses and the London underground. But passengers have declined very sharply as they are avoiding the risk of Covid-19 infection on public transport and many City workers have moved to work from home.

TfL have already had £1.6 billion from the Government in May to keep them afloat, but it is reported that they are asking for another £2 billion for this financial year alone, with another £2.9 billion later.

Taking into account the population of London that means every man, woman and child in London will be paying the equivalent of £700 each in taxes to keep TfL afloat. A completely ridiculous sum!

The Government is allegedly requiring TfL to extend the Congestion Charge zone – presumably to the North/South Circular – plus increases in public transport fares and cancellation of free travel for children and older people.

Clearly tough decisions are required unless the Government comes up with some cash, TfL may be forced to issue a Section 114 notice – the equivalent of a public body going bust. Such a Notice inhibits any new expenditure which would severely hamper the Mayor and TfL. But would that be a bad thing when so much money is currently being wasted on daft road schemes and cycle lanes?

The basic problem is that while customers have disappeared, TfL have continued to run unchanged services which no commercial business would have done. They should have reduced services to save money, i.e. matched services to customer demand. What is the point of running trains or buses with nobody on them? It’s financial lunacy. They are also suffering from past financial mismanagement and delays to the Elizabeth line which meant they had no financial buffer to cope with the epidemic.

But who is going to pay for these problems? Apparently the motorist which is quite unjust.

I have sent the following email to my Member of Parliament  – I suggest readers do the same:

To Robert Neill, M.P.

Dear Bob,

I see that according to press reports the Government is demanding tough measures from Sadiq Khan and TfL to keep the latter afloat. That includes an extension of the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax).

It is absolutely unacceptable that motorists should be required to bail out Sadiq Khan and the management of TfL as a result of their financial incompetence.

The Government should simply say “no more hand-outs – you need to adjust your revenue and costs on public transport so that they match”. Otherwise they should let it go bust and take over direct control of the organisation and institute some sensible management. That includes cutting out all those expensive cycle lanes and other traffic schemes that do not generate any revenue at present but cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

Yours, Roger Lawson  

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Congestion Charge Increase – Make Your Views Known!

Anyone who pays the London Congestion Charge will know that it is proposed to increase it immediately to £15 per day and extend the hours. Although it is suggested this is a “temporary” increase, bearing in mind it seems to have been prompted mainly by TfL’s financial difficulties, it is quite likely it will be made permanent.

Transport for London (TfL) are inviting comments on the proposals. You can send your comments to yoursay@tfl.gov.uk. But it needs to be done by the 4th June so don’t delay!

These are some comments we have sent which you can use as you see fit but it’s best to use your own words:

“Please note that we object to the proposed increase in the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax)  to £15 per day, whether a temporary increase or a permanent one. We also object to the extension of hours.

The very large increase in the charge is simply irrational. The Congestion Charge was originally designed to reduce traffic congestion but has not done that (see this page of our web site for a full analysis: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm ). It has just turned into a tax on Londoners to support public transport. And it is an excessive and punitive tax where the costs to collect the tax consume most of the revenue. It particularly discriminates against the less well off and those who have no choice about their working hours or transport options – for example the disabled or elderly.

The impact of the Covid-19 epidemic might encourage people to use private transport rather than public transport because the former is clearly safer. But the cost of the Congestion Tax is already so high, plus the cost of parking is very high, that it is very unlikely to result in substantial numbers of people moving to commuting by car into London. Most of the vehicles entering the Central Congestion Zone are goods vehicles, or those on essential journeys or on ones that cannot be made by public transport. They cannot avoid paying the tax.

Clearly the intent of the proposed increase is to solve the budget problems of TfL by raising a tax on a small minority of hard-working Londoners. Why should they have to pay for the Mayor’s financial incompetence which is as big a cause of the deficit in TfL as the recent pandemic.

The increase in the charge and the extended hours will have a very detrimental impact on businesses such as theatres that rely on customers visiting central London. It will also prejudice those such as the police who have to work unsocial hours in central London and cannot easily use public transport. This simply looks like the Covid-19 epidemic is being used as an excuse to attack private vehicle use in London, which is totally unjustified.

We urge you to reconsider this proposal, and look at other ways to balance the TfL budget.

In our view the Congestion Tax should be scrapped as being ineffective and regressive, not increased”.

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