The congestion charge will rise to £15 from next week and apply in the evenings and weekends to tackle rising levels of traffic in central London, Sadiq Khan confirmed today.
The Mayor said temporarily increasing the charge from £11.50 and extending it until 10pm would help deliver a “cleaner and greener” economic recovery from coronavirus.
Transport for London said the number of cars in the zone had returned to pre-lockdown levels amid concerns the numbers could double as people followed orders to avoid public transport.
It is hoped the new hours and higher levy could cut car journeys by a third, reduce exhaust emissions by 11 per cent, and make walking and cycling safer.
The changes mean the charge will operate from 7am-10pm from Monday June 22, seven days a week. At present it applies only 7am-6pm on weekdays.
TfL said: “These temporary changes will ensure the capital’s recovery from the pandemic is not restricted by cars and congestion.”
Mr Khan has rejected calls, including from his Tory mayoral rival Shaun Bailey, to exempt police officers driving to and from work from paying the charge.
NHS workers were already exempt and this has been temporarily widened to include care home workers, London Ambulance staff and council and charity workers involved in the pandemic response.
NHS patients who are “vulnerable to coronavirus” will also be exempt. Emergency vehicles – including police cars – were already exempt.
An increase in the C-charge was a requirement of the Government’s £1.6 billion coronavirus bail-out for TfL last month.
The hike in the levy and longer hours are “temporary” measures but no date for their withdrawal has been announced. TfL will have to conduct a Londonwide consultation if the changes are to become permanent. At present, the changes will be “kept under review”.
Mr Khan had been warned by his own transport chiefs that failing to extend the C-charge’s cost and hours would lead to buses getting stuck in growing levels of traffic.
Road space is being carved out for wider pavements and segregated cycle lanes, reducing the space available for vehicles, to encourage more Londoners to walk and cycle.
Mr Khan said: “Coronavirus continues to present our city with unprecedented challenges but I am determined to ensure that we emerge from this pandemic with a cleaner, greener and more sustainable transport system.
“The reality is that due to social distancing requirements public transport can only carry a fraction of the number of passengers compared to pre-pandemic levels - even when we are back to running completely full services.
“While capacity on the network needs to be preserved for those people who need it most, we can’t allow journeys that were previously taken on public transport to be replaced with car trips.”
TfL said that car traffic in the zone in the evenings was almost as high as during the day, and was even higher at weekends than during the week.
Alex Williams, TfL’s director of city planning, said: “It is not sustainable for London’s recovery to be dominated by cars. We are already seeing a surge in traffic and need to act now to stop the city grinding to a halt.”
The C-charge was suspended at the start of lockdown on March 23 but reintroduced on May 18 to limit the number of journeys made by car.
Under the terms of the TfL bailout, Mr Khan was required to “urgently bring forward proposals to widen the scope and levels” of the C-charge – though ministers did not say by how much the charge had to rise.
About 60,000 drivers normally pay the charge each weekday but that number increased last year when minicabs lost their exemption. About 13,500 minicabs are seen within the zone each day.
Only 0.5 per cent of cars entering the zone do so on a daily basis. Just over half of vehicles seen in the zone only enter once every six months.
The zone raised a gross £230m a year in levies and fines in 2018/19, the most recent figures available, but this was reduced to a “profit” of £146m once the cost of running the scheme were deducted.
The changes also mean that drivers who pay by direct debit will no longer receive a £1-a-day discount. The residents’ discount will be closed to new applicants on August 1 “to act as a deterrent to car ownership in central London”.
The changes will allow drivers to pay the charge up to three days after travel without incurring a fine, but at a higher rate of £17.50.
Mr Bailey previously called for the hike to be abandoned, describing it as “anti-business” and claiming it would “cost more money than it raises”.
Photo credit: The congestion charge will rise to £15 from next week (Oli Scarff/Getty)