Khan fights plan to enlarge congestion charge zone

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, has fought back against a government plan to vastly increase the capital's congestion charge zone in exchange for new funding to keep the underground and buses running.

Ministers yesterday agreed to extend emergency short-term funding to keep the transport network open until the end of October, while the two sides continue to discuss a longer-term package of support.

Transport for London has warned it is on the brink of running out of cash, having used up most of an emergency £1.6bn bailout agreed with the government in the spring.

The government has offered £1bn in new cash tied to conditions, including expanding the size of the congestion charge zone to include the north and south circular roads that ring the centre, and stripping children and the elderly of free travel, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The zone is currently limited to the main tourist destinations and financial district of London.

"Neither the mayor nor I can see how it would be right to charge people £15 to drive a mile from Wandsworth to Clapham, or from Catford to Lewisham from October of next year ... that is in effect what the government has said they want," deputy mayor Heidi Alexander told a meeting of TfL's finance board.

A source close to the mayor said some of the conditions demanded by the government were "totally unacceptable". "He would not ask Londoners to accept them in these difficult times," the person said.

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for mayor in next year's delayed election, also pushed back against extending the congestion charging zone. "Under no circumstance would I back an extension of the congestion charge zone, regardless of who proposes it," he said.

Details of the government offer were first reported by Sky News.

The cost of the congestion charge rose to £15 and its hours were extended earlier this year as part of plans to discourage people driving into London during the pandemic.

Boris Johnson, who served as London mayor for eight years, cut the size of the congestion charge area in 2010 to remove large parts of west London.

The government offer is well short of the £5.7bn Mr Khan has said is needed to sustain its operations through the next 18 months as passenger numbers fall because of the pandemic.

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    Tuesday, October 27, 2020