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Changes proposed to Private Hire Congestion Charge exemptions to reduce traffic and improve air qual

Transport for London has today launched a public consultation on measures to reduce traffic and improve air quality in central London. The new proposals would see the exemption from the Congestion Charge for private hire vehicles (PHVs) removed and the introduction of a new Cleaner Vehicle Discount to replace the Ultra Low Emission Discount. It is proposed that these changes would take effect from 8 April 2019, and by ensuring that the emission standard for those receiving a full discount are tighter than the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), would help to further drive demand for the greenest vehicles. Since the Congestion Charge launched fifteen years ago, the number of vehicles entering the zone every day has decreased by around 30 per cent. However, over the same period, the number of different PHVs entering the zone in charging hours has gone from an expected 4,000 a day, to more than 18,000, with knock on impacts on air pollution and congestion in central London. 

Alex Williams, TfL’s Director of City Planning, said: “If we are to clean up the capital’s toxic air and tackle congestion in central London, we need to have the appropriate incentives as well as the right interventions. “The Congestion Charge has had a real impact on improving London’s roads for all since it launched fifteen years ago. However, over that time the availability and standard of low-emission vehicles has greatly advanced and the number of private hire vehicles entering the zone during charging hours has rocketed. It is only right that we keep the discounts and exemptions for the scheme under review to make sure it continues to be effective.” Analysis carried out for TfL indicates that the removal of the PHV Congestion Charge exemption could reduce the number of individual PHVs entering central London by up to 45 per cent. Removing these vehicles, which often repeatedly circulate within the zone, could reduce congestion and improve journey times for bus passengers, while reducing emissions. It is proposed that the exemption would remain for wheelchair accessible PHVs, to support TfL’s commitment to make the capital an accessible city for all. The consultation seeks views on replacing the Ultra Low Emission Discount with a new phased Cleaner Vehicle Discount from 8 April 2019. The current Ultra Low Emission Discount applies to cars or vans that meet the Euro 5 standard for air quality, as well as emitting 75g/km or less of CO². The first phase of changes proposed would mean only zero-emission capable vehicles will not have to pay the Congestion Charge on environmental grounds. It is expected that, if the changes are made, around 10 per cent of the vehicles currently eligible will no longer receive a discount. To encourage the uptake of the cleanest vehicles and support the ambition in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy for zero-emission road transport by 2050, there will a further tightening of the Cleaner Vehicle Discount in October 2021, with only pure electric vehicles qualifying. Further consideration will be given to future incentives for the uptake of zero-emission vehicles after 2025, which, subject to consultation, could include a central London zero-emission zone. 

Bridget Fox, Sustainable Transport Campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, said: "The Congestion Charge plays a vital role in cutting unnecessary traffic, keeping London moving and helping clean up our dirty air. It's right that TfL is keeping the Congestion Charge under review and integrating it with other clean air measures. We hope Londoners will take this opportunity to speak up for healthier streets. 

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