Is the Mayor of London planning to introduce pay-per-mile road charging?

10 April 2024
What was claimed

London mayor Sadiq Khan is planning to introduce a pay-per-mile scheme for drivers in the capital.

Our verdict

Mr Khan has repeatedly said he’s ruled out bringing in a pay-per-mile scheme while he is mayor. The Conservatives have argued this pledge can’t be trusted. Prior to ruling it out, Mr Khan and Transport for London had previously talked about the potential for pay-per-mile charging to be introduced in the future.

Last week a number of Full Fact’s supporters in London received leaflets from Conservative party mayoral candidate Susan Hall AM claiming that Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is “planning to introduce a pay-per-mile scheme” for motorists in the capital.

We’ve already raised our concerns over the format of the leaflet, which appears similar to a parking charge notice. However the claim on the leaflets also needs context.

The leaflet claims that Mr Khan “wants to introduce a whole new drivers’ tax” that would mean “you could have to pay for every mile that you drive”. Ms Hall’s made similar claims online and in the media elsewhere, as have other Conservative politicians including party chair Richard Holden MP, Home Office minister Chris Philp MP and London Assembly member Peter Fortune.

Mr Khan has repeatedly ruled out bringing in a pay-per-mile scheme while he is mayor, but the Conservatives have argued that commitment can’t be trusted, pointing out that Mr Khan and Transport for London have previously talked about the potential for pay-per-mile charging to be introduced in the future. 

While it’s impossible to say whether any politician will end up honouring a specific pledge—we often say we can’t fact check the future—we’ve looked here at the evidence from the two parties.

It is important that politicians ensure claims made about their peers are presented using important relevant context and caveats, to ensure the highest standards of honesty and accuracy in public debate are upheld.

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What’s the evidence for the claim?

When Full Fact asked the Conservative party what the claim was based on, it sent us a list of 16 times since 2017 when Mr Khan, his deputy or Transport for London (TfL) have referenced the potential introduction of “road user charging” or a “pay-per-mile” scheme. The full list (plus an additional example not featured on the list sent to Full Fact) has been published by the Daily Express.

Many of these instances appear to be based on planning work being done by TfL for the development of a new “core technology platform” under the project name ‘Detroit’, which  will replace the current platform when its contract expires in 2026.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request published in December 2022, TfL said that the platform’s scope was to “replicate the capability of the existing charging system that processes automatic number plate recognition events” and support existing road-charging schemes such as the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and the Congestion Charge.

It added that the platform “has the capability to be extended and we will be looking to build the system flexibly so that other forms of charging based on distance, vehicle type, etc., could be catered for if a decision was made in future to do so”.

Some of the examples on the list seem to refer more generally to forms of road user charging, rather than a pay-per-mile scheme specifically. But there are a number of examples referring explicitly to potential “pay-per-mile” or “per mile” charging in London in the future.

For example, in January 2022 Mr Khan told the Evening Standard podcast: “I’ve asked TfL today to start working on […] what can TfL can do in the medium to long term about moving us towards a smart road user charging scheme to replace the congestion charge, the Ultra Low Emission Zone and the LEZ [Low Emission Zone] with one simple scheme where people pay per mile depending on what time of day they drive, what their vehicle is, what the alternatives are to driving their car and so forth.”

However, in response to questions about this from Conservative London assembly member Emma Best last September, Mr Khan said that “it is no secret that the government, TfL and transport officials around the country have been looking at the pay-per-mile concept for some time”, but stated that he would not introduce any such system while he was mayor.

He said: “Simplifying the various charges we have TfL is looking into under my mayoralty.  What I will not be doing as long as I am mayor is having the pay-per-mile scheme that you are referring to.”

A spokesperson for Mr Khan told Full Fact: “Sadiq has repeatedly ruled out pay-per-mile for as long as he is mayor. He recently wrote to London’s transport commissioner to leave no doubt that it is ruled out.”

Did Mr Khan U-turn on the ULEZ extension?

The Conservative party has argued elsewhere that Mr Khan’s pledge not to introduce a pay-per-mile system can’t be trusted, claiming that the mayor had previously promised not to extend ULEZ to cover almost all of Greater London, before doing so last year.

It cites as evidence that in July 2021 Mr Khan said in response to a written question: “I have no plans to extend the ULEZ to outer London.” 

The expansion of ULEZ to cover almost all of Greater London was subsequently announced in November 2022, and took effect in August 2023.

In February, Mr Khan responded to a question about his July 2021 comments, saying: “Every day more evidence is published highlighting the terrible impacts of exposure to air pollution—even at low levels. We need to evolve and adapt our air quality policies to make sure we address the current challenges.

“On 18 January 2022, I announced that given the urgency of the triple threats of the climate crisis, the damaging impact of toxic air pollution and congestion in the capital, I was considering a number of policies that could be ready within the next few years to further reduce transport emissions. [...]

“In weighing up the different proposals, the rising cost of living was a key consideration. This meant looking for a scheme that would have the biggest effect on reducing emissions and congestion relative to the potential financial impact on Londoners as a whole.”

Mr Khan’s campaign did not offer any further comment when we asked about this.

As we wrote last year, Mr Khan had previously stated in his 2021 re-election campaign manifesto: “Beyond the expansion of ULEZ [to the North and South circular roads], I’ll monitor all existing road-charging schemes to ensure they continue to bring the maximum benefits of improved air quality and reduced congestion, and I’ll identify where further action is needed to eradicate hotspots for air pollution.”

Image courtesy of Jay Wennington

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