London’s congestion charge – designed to reduce levels of traffic and thus harmful emissions – appears to be having the opposite of the desired effect, a study shows.
Professor Colin Green and his colleagues at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have studied pollution levels over London since the introduction of the charge in 2003. They have found that the levels of some pollutants, such as the harmful nitrogen dioxide, have risen by up to 20%.
Professor Green suggests that this is due to the increased usage of buses and taxis, both of which are exempt from the charge:
‘To get people onto public transport, the buses and black cabs were exempt from the charge,
‘Bus departures and routes were expanded after introducing the charge in the city centre. Bus and taxi traffic increased by more than 20 per cent.
‘The problem was that all the buses and London taxis ran on diesel.
Unfortunately, despite a reduction in some pollutants, the increased levels of nitrogen dioxide are a real cause for concern.
Nitrogen dioxide occurs with the burning of fossil fuels and can be dangerous or even fatal if concentration and exposure levels are high. It is a particular concern for high-risk groups such as people with asthma, children and older adults.
Nitrogen dioxide also works to trap heat, having a detrimental impact on the environment and the planet overall.
Professor Green highlights the issues with nitrogen dioxide in the study by stating:
‘Fifty thousand people are estimated to die prematurely in the UK every year due to air pollution,’ states Professor Green.
‘Before the coronavirus, exhaust was the fastest-growing cause of death globally.
‘In fact, researchers in Germany have found that exposure to exhaust leads to a sharp increase in coronavirus mortality.’
With this in mind, motorists and experts alike have begun to question whether the congestion charge – which currently stands at £15 per day – can be justified if it is not having the desired effect. Professor Green goes as far as to suggest the congestion charge scheme was flawed from the start:
‘In London, there are hardly any electric cars or buses that run on environmentally friendly fuel,
‘A tax in the most congested areas without any measure to reduce the number of diesel vehicles hasn’t had the desired effect on air quality,
‘Reducing traffic isn’t the same as reducing air pollution.’
‘We argue the NO2 increase likely reflects the incentives that the charging scheme provided to shift towards diesel-based transportation.’
The study suggests that while the government is putting into place newer schemes to drive down emissions and improve air quality across the country, older schemes should be reviewed to ensure they are in keeping with the overall mission.
[Image Source: Shutterstock, April 2021]
The congestion charge may not be working, but what is?
While London’s congestion charge may not be driving down pollution as much as was once predicted, the government are frequently putting other schemes into place to help cut emissions and improve environmental health.
The first of these began with the Paris Agreement back in 2015 – an international agreement to ensure the increase in global temperature does not exceed 2 degrees Celsius.
This served to kick start other schemes: the government’s announcement to become carbon neutral by 2050, for example. This includes planting more trees and installing ‘carbon capture’ technology to reduce emissions.
Following this, the government announced that the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles would be banned by 2040, before bringing this date forward by a decade to 2030. Within this are multiple schemes to encourage motorists to switch to electric vehicles, including electric vehicle grants and investment into public charge point technology.
While it is clear that the government is going above and beyond to ‘build back greener’, some environmental experts believe it is not enough. The congestion charge study has only served to support this belief further.
Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, claims that the government is: ‘out of touch with the scale of the climate challenges and that not enough is being done ‘for people and for our planet.
‘To avoid catastrophe, we need a low-carbon, nature-powered recovery – and we don’t have many chances left.’
Do you think the congestion charge is justified, or is it a flawed scheme that needs reworking? Is the government doing enough to reduce emissions and decrease levels of pollution?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Surely the purpose of the London Congestion Charge, introduced in 2003, was primarily to reduce traffic congestion, which had become intolerable. Here is the Wikipedia page offering a detailed history and discussion of the charge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_congestion_charge
Although related, the London Low Emission Zone and London Ultra Low Emission Zone, the purposes of which are to reduce atmospheric pollution, are not synonymous with the London Congestion Charge.
If that were the case why is there exemption for low emission & electric vehicles – they take up the same road space as any other vehicle! As you point out it is supposed to be a congestion charge…..
Could be congestion of peoples lungs, either way it was just a pricing people off the roads, noting it allows residents with large diesel vehicles to drive about within the zone with impunity for pollution?
And as for Taxis and buses (trains, planes, boats?) being exempt, one rule for one and not for the other.
Anyway all it does is move the problem elsewhere, even if every vehicle became electric that electricity has to be generated somewhere – upping the the energy/fuel/polution use there.
Same old political spin – look we’re doing good here, don’t ask us about consequences elsewhere – your so negative!
The Political spin 20yrs ago was about reducing congestion. This latest research indicates they either did not consider increased pollution from extra use of taxis & busses, or deliberately chose to keep quiet about it.
Turns out to be just another way to extract extra taxes from vehicle owners (busses & taxis exempt!).
That was always its intent, the charge was then to be used to fund improvements in public transport. However, as the widely publicised issues with the “new routemaster” batteries, they are actually running worse emmitions, as the diesel engines were only supposed to charge the batteries, not power the bus.
WIth the new ElectricTaxis by LEVC(formerly LTI,) and the improvements in hybrid technologies, hydrogen power and all electric busses coming on stream, it should improve the ULEZ performance and lead to the desired results
Quote: “London’s congestion charge – designed to reduce levels of traffic and thus harmful emissions”.
What a load of crap, the Congestion Charge was introduced for one reason, and one reason only….to make money. It has been so successful that Sadiq Khan has not only increased the charge, he’s added weekend charging, AND the hours in which it is in operation. He’s also introduced the ULEZ, on the pretext that it allows Londoners to breathe in more fresh air, and ultimately save lives. This is a blatant lie by Khan, it’s simply yet another device to take money from the motorist. IF he was serious about reducing pollution he would BAN older higher polluting vehicles from the City altogether.
Khan is making the motorists pay fir his total mismanagement of TFL and the massive black hole his policies have created. He is now proposing that motorists that don’t actually live in a London borough and enter one should pay £5.50 on top of any congestion charge and ULEZ charge. He has ruined any recovery for theatres and shops with his scheme of charging £15 and extending the charging hours until 10.00 pm, adding weekends and all bank holidays except Christmas Day. Let’s face it he’s against motorists and is driven round in a bulletproof vehicle
Khan has ruined London completely. I hate to know what the current emissions are on Park Lane since it’s down to one lane and one bus lane northbound. It’s standing traffic all day long. Utterly pathetic, needs ripping out now just like all the other temporary measures introduced for covid.
A blind man could tell Khan it’s a stupid idea.
An interesting report, considering Birmingham is to implement a clean air policy on all cars below Euro 4 emissions with an £8 charge, 365/24 hr chargable. Unlike London, we have no underground, full trams that only run on very limited routes, train belting out diesel fumes, taxis that do the same, and buses that are run by any Tom, Dick and Harry with smelly exhausts. Our glorious council tell us it is going to help the city, but the boundary is the outer ring road, next to dense urban estates which surround it. They said the measure has been forced upon it by Europe, but we left that club in January this year. More like a money making scheme to pay for the Commonwealth Games in 2022.
The LCC was designed and always going to be the cash cow for London. They are now making more than ever planned due to the recent increases.
In reality, the pollution issue was just a cover for this windfall and will continue to be so. If they had to choose, it would be the cash every time.
This government and all before them are just playing politics at the expense of the travelling public.
Whenever I need to go into Central London, I always use the underground.
At night time, outside the hours of Congestion Charge/ULEZ, I would use the car. I guess I’m one those people that are not feeding that cash cow! LOL
Electric vehicles are NOT pollution free, the minerals are mined by child slave labour from 1/2 way around the world. Much of our pollution is caused by ships burning huge amounts of fossil fuel to ship goods from the Far East instead of making things here.
In addition I have read recently that global warming is caused not so much by CO2 but by excess water vapour, In parts of the former USSR huge forest are being clear felled by people who are not replacing the trees.
The Amazon rainforest trees are also being knocked down and not replaced.
But they don’t cause pollution individually nor in their immediate location, which is the point of the charge.
I’ve always wondered why everyone is so focused on the pollution created from the exhaust but no one talks about the pollution from the tyre being in contact with the road. I’m sure there have been reports made that 50% of the particles created from vehicle driving actually come from wear and tear on tyres and road surfaces and the other 50% from the exhaust.
Also curious as someone has pointed out why we always focus on new vehicle production ie electric vehicles with big batteries and not on recycling or making the vehicles we have run longer and more efficiently. Surely there is a huge amount of energy and resources used to make each and every new electric vehicle.
I’m thinking the push for electric vehicles is just another money grabbing scheme by the VM’s to change our buying habits and make us buy vehicles that have a shorter life than traditional combustion engine vehicles…
Also interesting to hear about the environmental impact of buses. Why have we not converted them to electric as should be the first priority? The same can be said of all the mopeds and bikes that we see increasingly in the inner cities doing all the just eat and user eat deliveries. Why aren’t these converted to electric like they the Chinese have done in Shangahi?
Slow traffic doesn’t disturb the air so pollutives concentrate. Get the traffic moving! Lumps and bumps in the road damages vehicles, slows them to accelerate after passing, and slows emergency services Chicanes, road narrowing,and un-necessary speed limitations and along with traffic lights with prolonged delay times also contribute, as does high rise buildings restricting wind flow.
Sadiq is creating more pollution and congestion by installing extra traffic lights, reducing lanes, etc, etc, as Mr. B. Johnston says in his comment above. As a result, causes more pollution, which in turn, becomes an main stream issue, highlighted by the scientists and Media, which in turn, awakens all the Air Quality Environmentalists, which then makes the Government and Mayor act by introducing the Emissions Zones and spending taxpayers money on environmental schemes, etc, etc
Many outer-London bus routes use Low Emission and Hydrogen based vehicles – so why does London not follow suit? Does TfL have no money to invest in these buses? Taxis must also become Electric and Hydrogen based – no brainer. Subsidies must be focussed on THESE priorities first
There are Low-Emission buses in London. And Black cabs have to be electric now, as the old diesels are being phased out
As long as they can get their hands on more and more of your hard earned cash then these schemes withkepp cropping up and expanding…
I have never understood why taxis get preferential treatment. They are not public transport, they are no different to ordinary car users
Simple, buy yourself an old taxi and pay nothing.
Congestion charge was always another name for highway robbery, just names to steal more money from the long suffering population. Liars and thieves govern us.
[…] London’s congestion charge causes pollution levels to climb since the introduction of the charge in 2003. They have found that the levels of some pollutants, such as the harmful nitrogen dioxide, have risen by up to 20%. Professor Green suggests that this is due to the increased usage of buses and taxis, both of which are exempt from the charge: […]
Scrapping an old car and getting a new one doesn’t help reduce carbon dioxide as an enormous amount of it is generated in the making of a car: production of steel especially generates much carbon dioxide. A British company produced a water electrolysis unit for injecting hydrogen into the diesel cylinders which they claimed was tested by TUV Austria as well as a university and shown to be pollution reducing. Injection of urea solution into the exhaust manifold removes NOX I believe. So in my view as a chemist, conversion of old diesels should have been investigated and probably would have achieved the needed pollution and, if so, legally required of all diesel vehicles buses and taxis included.l
False tax that is not fit for purpose and they are pushing the borders out further increasing congestion in the outskirts. Crazy.