A new system of road user charging should feature the following design principles:
London’s existing charging schemes should be replaced by a distance-based scheme, with charges set in advance and varying according to vehicle characteristics and recently observed local congestion and pollution levels at given times.
The scheme should operate through a single London transport platform, City Move, that allows users to compare, plan and pay for journeys across the full range of modes, including tube, train, bus, car, cycling and walking. The platform would proactively suggest cheaper, faster or healthier journey options and offer a number of added driver services.
The multimodal account should be linked to the individual, rather than the vehicle, enabling a fairer approach to charging, including targeted discounts and options to split the charge between passengers.
Charging levels should be set to achieve specified objectives and reviewed annually against these. Revenue should be directed exclusively to meeting these objectives, and spent on London’s roads, public transport and associated environmental and public realm measures.
The scheme should be built around three technologies: (1) a web platform and a smartphone app for user registration, journey planning and payment; (2) in-vehicle satellite navigation or smart app for journey verification; and (3) roadside cameras for added enforcement.
The scheme could offer a level of service or ‘delay repay’ guarantee, with drivers getting a partial or full refund where a journey takes significantly longer than expected.
The scheme should include a system of Mobility Credits to promote uptake of the app and to encourage healthier and greener ways of moving around.
The scheme should offer a dedicated business account that easily manages all commercial vehicles. Cheaper pre-booked delivery slots outside of peak times could encourage retiming and consolidation.
To realise the benefits of such a scheme, we recommend that:
The Mayor of London and Transport for London should prepare to introduce a distance-based road user charging scheme replacing all existing schemes, by the end of the 2020-2024 Mayoral term, by developing a customer platform, upgrading the required GPS and mobile network capacity, and conducting a pilot to test the technology.
The Mayor of London should introduce the user platform across London from the beginning to maximise the number of drivers benefitting from the scheme’s smart features and incentives, while gradually extending the charging regime, starting with areas of high demand and poor air quality.
The Mayor of London should collaborate with other cities across England to introduce elements of the proposed distance-based variable scheme in the implementation of Clean Air Zones, to improve overall air quality and health objectives.
The government should work with regional leaders to replace existing vehicle and fuel taxes with a national distance-based system, while enabling towns and cities to implement complementary schemes that tackle local congestion and pollution.