London mayor Sadiq Khan has announced that private hire vehicles (PHVs), including minicabs and Uber, will soon have to pay the Congestion Charge when driving in central London.

PHVs have been exempt from the £11.50-per-day charge since it was introduced in 2003, but from 8 April 2019, only zero emission-capable cars will be able to avoid the fee.

In addition, PHVs that don’t meet Cleaner Vehicle Discount (CVD) standards or are not wheelchair accessible will also have to pay the charge.

Then from October 2021, only pure electric vehicles will qualify for the discount, which expires in December 2025.

It is not clear whether these changes will have an effect on fares for passengers.

Transport for London (TfL) says the move will help Khan’s ambition for zero-emission road transport by 2050 and will tackle congestion problems in the capital, which is associated with poor air quality. It claims the move could reduce the number of PHVs in the Congestion Charge Zone by up to 8,000 a day.

The changes were made after TfL reportedly received 10,000 responses to a public consultation, many of which supported charging operators of minicabs as well as companies such as Uber.

In addition to lifting the Congestion Charge exemption, Khan and TfL have introduced a number of other measures to combat pollution related to diesel taxis, including a delicensing fund providing up to £10,000 for drivers who trade their older, dirtier vehicles early.

There is also a £2.5 million fund to help drivers of new Euro 5 taxis to convert to cleaner liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) fuel and a consultation in 2019 on a phased reduction in maximum taxi age limits for the most polluting vehicles from 15 years to 12 years by 2022.

Khan is aiming to reduce emissions from taxis by 65 per cent in 2025.

Analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation shows that real-world emissions from London taxis are seven times the laboratory limits, exceeding even passenger diesel cars. TfL claims taxis are currently responsible for 20 per cent of harmful nitrogen oxides and will be the biggest source of transport pollution in the capital by 2020.

According to the BBC, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) said the changes would “hit workers on poverty wages” and would ‘do little’ to reduce pollution.

The London Assembly claims Khan’s own figures show that the number of PHVs “would fall by only 600 a day, or 1 per cent” and has accused the mayor of removing the exemption “to rescue TfL from its dire financial straits”.

However, Khan said: “Toxic air pollution in London is a major public health crisis that is stunting the lung development of our children and leads to thousands of premature deaths and increases the risk of asthma and dementia.

“We have to make tough decisions to protect the health and wellbeing of Londoners and tackle harmful emissions from the most polluting vehicles. We’ve prioritised cleaning up our bus fleet and the early introduction of the 24-hour Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London. Now we need private hire vehicles and taxis to play their part and help us clean up our filthy air.”

Alex Williams, director of city planning at TfL, added: “Bold action is required to tackle London’s public health crisis. The taxi and private hire trades are central to reducing the filthy fumes circulating in our city. This package of measures will contribute to fewer vehicles driving where pollution is most concentrated and encourage the switch from diesel to electric.”

A report on the changes can be found here

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