As you might have heard, today London is electing a new Mayor and a new representatives for City Hall. There are plenty of other local elections going on around the country, so you might think that London’s votes are unlikely to be your concern.
Well, that might not be quite true. After Ken Livingstone arrived as the first modern Mayor of London in 2000, he took up on powers quietly passed into law in 1999 to fast-forward a congestion-charge scheme into being. It may have been crude, costly to set-up and unprofitable (making just 25p on each £5 fee), but it changed the face of motoring.
In the wake of the ‘successful’ introduction of the C-Charge, Edinburgh and Greater Manchester tried to introduce similar schemes, although they were defeated in local votes. Smaller cities are still trying to slip in schemes to charge private commuting drivers. Indeed, Nottingham has just brought in a tax on workplace parking.
Other towns and cities (including Gloucester) also copied London’s post C-Charge scheme of removing road space and closing junctions, hoping the subsequent queues would cause drivers to divert or, even, abandon the car altogether. Where London heads, the rest of the country tries to follow.
So I’d like to warn all you drivers outside the M25 that new tolling powers are about to be awarded to Transport For London which will further the road tolling cause. The Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) bill has been wending its way through Parliament and the Lords since 2006, under Mayor Livingstone’s stewardship.
Originally, the bill was claimed to be purely for the tolling of a new Thames bridge in East London, though many suspected its powers might have been used for other tolling schemes. It also contained some hair raising clauses that would have allowed TFL’s henchmen to enter your car to ‘remove equipment’. This equipment was intended to be the windscreen-mounted tolling charge cards that are the holy grail for the road toll enthusiast.
After Boris Johnson became Mayor in 2008, the bill was put on ice. But it reappeared as a private bill in 2010, sponsored by ex-TFL board member Baroness Grey Thompson. In June 2011, the noble Baroness steered it though the Lords, explaining that the powers would be used for the new East London river crossing. Baroness Kramer asked if the powers would be used to enforce future low emission zones. Grey Thompson claimed she did not know, but then did admit that the powers in the bill would not be ‘used solely for the Thames crossing’.
Which is what I feared. This bill is weeks from Royal Assent and will give the new Mayor unspecified powers to advance road tolls. I understand Livingstone had wanted, as his big third term policy, to toll the main roads in Greater London controlled by TFL.
Another big push on tolling, with better equipment that doesn’t cost a fortune to administer, could yet revive the road charging cause. Even if Boris Johnson wins today, the new powers will be ready to be deployed.
There are people in this country who have made mass road tolling their life’s work. They will not rest until private motorists are subject to more taxation. The fact this private bill has taken six years to succeed, shows the levels of determination involved.