Almost three-quarters of Londoners support charging drivers of dirty vehicles in an effort to tackle the capital’s air pollution crisis, according to a study.
The survey, released on the day the mayor, Sadiq Khan, launches his ultra low emissions zone (ULEZ), found that 72% of adults in London support emissions charging to tackle both air pollution and congestion.
The poll by YouGov for the business campaign group London First comes as residents and families in the capital get used to the introduction of the scheme, which is designed to keep the dirtiest vehicles out of central London.
Parents Isabele Adamson, 27, and Nick Adamson, 31, welcomed the charge. Buying lunch in Borough Market with their nine-month-old son hours after the measures came into effect, they admitted to having serious concerns about air pollution and the impact on their child.
“My husband has asthma, so we’re really concerned about Arthur developing asthma or his lungs not developing properly,” said Isabele. Although they supported the charge, they believed it was only “a small drop in the bucket” and were keen for the zone to be extended.
At present, the zone covers only central London, but from October 2021 will expand to the North and South Circular.
Filling up at a Shell garage down the road was Ben Ernst. His vehicle belongs to the local art gallery for which he works, and is one of the estimated 40,000 vehicles affected by the charge. “Personally, I support it,” he said. “We could do with upgrading this vehicle anyway.”
He believed the congestion charge had been effective at limiting private vehicles entering central London, so was optimistic ULEZ would also be successful.
Thomas Haggerty, 35, a locksmith, is exempt from the charge as he lives within the zone, but will have to pay it when he moves. He was scepticalabout how effective it will be at reducing air pollution.
“I’ll have to go and buy a new van, and the van is going to make lots of pollution,” he said. Costs for his customers would also rise, he believed: “Every time I come into London it’s going to cost everyone £25 extra on top of the job.”
Charging his new electric black cab on Southwark Street was Dean Oliver, 57, a taxi driver. Oliver thought the zone was a positive step but had concerns over whom it would hit hardest. “I think it’s going to be a good thing in the long run. It’ll sort things out but at the moment it seems to have hit some of the people in the wrong place, like the working class especially.”
Oliver said his friends in the building trade have driven their vans to Stratford in east London before getting on the underground with their tools to avoid paying for ULEZ and the congestion charge: “It’s too much. It’s £100 a week extra.”
Oliver said he would like TfL to acknowledge the pollution being emitted elsewhere on the road. “Some of these buses are letting out so many fumes it’s unbelievable,” he said
Ben Moon, 33, who cycles in the city, was happy something was being done to tackle the city’s pollution problem. “Definitely, as a cyclist [air pollution] is horrendous. You notice that the air is bad, especially when you get properly into central London,” he said. However, he did have concerns that the extension of the zone could price out less wealthy drivers who need to drive.
“It would be a shame if only really wealthy people were able to drive and not anyone else, because the only cars they’re making that [are low emissions] are too expensive. I’m all up for it but you can’t do everything on a bike.”
The YouGov survey found that whether people travelled by car, train or tube they believed their journey had become more congested in the past three years. And more than six in 10 supported a combination of congestion and emissions charging in London in the future.
Jasmine Whitbread, the CEO of London First, said charging for road use was becoming more common globally, amid growing concerns about the public health impact of pollution and air quality.
“In London, we have a number of charges designed to tackle congestion and emissions, and to keep traffic flowing. ULEZ is another positive step which will help make the capital cleaner and greener, as well as making London a more attractive place to visit, live and work.”
Toxic air leads to the premature deaths of at least 40,000 people a year in the UK – 9,000 in London – and it leaves hundreds of thousands more suffering serious long-term health problems.
Khan’s “world leading” scheme will impose a £12.50 charge to drive into central London, 24 hours a day, for all but the cleanest cars and vans. The zone is expected to reduce road transport emissions by about 45%.
The move has been widely welcomed by parents’ groups, doctors and environmental campaigners, who say it will help to kickstart a clean-up of the capital’s toxic air. But many have urged politicians across the country to go even further.