Friday, July 17, 2020

London Mayor Faces Legal Challenge Over Toll on Motorists

Fuel Price Lobby Takes on the Wrath of Khan
Shipping News Feature

UK – As can be seen from the photograph, one certain thing when dealing with a statement from the head of FairFuelUK is that it will contain some expansive language. Now the fuel price lobby group has joined with the Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) in a bid to legally challenge the London Mayor over his latest policy and, together with an appeal for funds to do so, the arguments used are as demonstrative as ever.

The two organisations are seeking Court action to confront Sadiq Khan over London’s Congestion Charge re-introduction at a rate 31% higher than previously i.e. before the coronavirus struck. They have, through their Lawyers delivered a letter before claim/pre-action protocol for Judicial Review with regard to the Greater London Authority and Mayor of London. Howard Cox, Founder of the FairFuelUK Campaign expresses things thus:

“He only consults with his supportive stakeholders behind so called ‘exceptional circumstances’ to hit motorists unnecessarily and even harder in the pocket. He encourages us to drive during the Covid crisis, then with no supportive evidence to do so, he plucks a number, out of nowhere, to massively hike the C-Charge. And without any proof, he also increases the charging period to cover weekends, plus extending his additional cash grab through to 10pm every day.

“This modern day Dick Turpin, a debt-ridden anti-driver political opportunist, has divided the capital with his recurrent ‘pay to congest and pollute’ policies. He then blames the Government for doing all of this. Surely, he cannot sink any lower with such bigoted political deceit? In this time of worry for all of us, why did the Mayor not consider, taxing river, air traffic, construction machinery or other sources of pollution?

“Surely these are more competent and fairer ways to raise the cash to fill his fiscal black hole without screwing drivers at every opportunity”.

The objection to the Mayor’s decision taken on 15 June 2020 to temporarily and exceptionally vary the Congestion Charge with effect from 22 June 2020 until further notice, an increase of the C-Charge by 31% to £15 per day from £11.50, is not the only complaint. He also extended the operating hours to 7.00am to 22.00pm every day from 7.00am to 6.00pm Monday-Friday and is to close the residents’ discount to new applicants from 1 August 2020 on the basis that it will act as a deterrent to car ownership in Central London.

The Mayor’s decision was bound to be controversial, particularly at a time when complaints about conflicting advice from government down are rife. Many people are fearful of using public transport and, whilst cycling has been encouraged, many younger and older residents and visitors simply find this impossible. Paul Biggs Director of ABD summed up thus:

“Enough is enough. The financial ‘Khanage’ in London inflicted by the 30% C-Charge increase extended to 7 days at a time of great economic hardship for many people, the country and our capital must be challenged. The Mayor is riding roughshod over every motorist, who has no choice but to drive."

A letter from the Minister of Transport office at the Department for Transport to the lawyers involved, Black Antelope, stated the decision to raise the Congestion Charge to £15 was taken by Sadiq Khan alone as follows:

”On 15 May the Government announced a £1.6 billion emergency funding and financing package to enable Transport for London to continue operating services for essential journeys through the Covid-19 outbreak. As part of the agreement, the Mayor of London agreed a number of measures to support the safe restart of the transport system, including by helping Londoners move towards greener and healthier walking and cycling options.

”This included reintroducing the congestion charge, LEZ and ULEZ, and bringing forward proposals to widen the scope and level of these charges. However, the decision to temporarily raise the congestion charge to £15 and extend the hours of operation was taken by the Mayor. This will be reviewed as part of the upcoming review into TfL’s financial position. I hope this information was helpful.”

FairFuelUK and ABD are questioning why 31% which they say is 150 times the rate of inflation? How much will the increase raise and where will the money go? The Mayor said temporarily increasing the charge from £11.50 and extending it until 10pm would help deliver a ‘cleaner and greener’ economic recovery from coronavirus. Where is his evidence that such a finger in the air increase will generate cleaner and greener economic recovery from coronavirus?

On the 6th July the Mayor made a statement explaining why the hurried decision was made, one which again came in for scathing criticism as to which ‘stakeholders’ views were actually considered, with particular mention of road haulage operators who work in the capital every day. He said:

“Given we are responding to exceptional and urgent circumstances and the changes are only temporary, it was not practicable or required to conduct a formal lengthy consultation. Nonetheless, Transport for London (TfL) and I invited responses from stakeholders and the public to understand their views.

”Approximately 14,000 emails and letters were received through the TfL ‘yoursay’ email address and the GLA. The issues raised in public and stakeholder responses have been considered through the impact assessment. A broad range of supportive views and concerns were raised.

”People expressed support for measures due to concerns about high levels of traffic, air pollution and road safety, as well as concerns about impacts of the changes on residents, shielding residents and vulnerable people reliant on volunteers, as well as businesses and the economy. The Integrated Impact Assessment took into account the views submitted by stakeholders and the public. Additional mitigation measures were identified as a result. The IIA was published alongside the decision form.”

The challenge to the increase in the charge contains a whole raft of questions, the crux of which query as to where the evidence is that shows these measures will actually reduce traffic to any extent and are not simply a revenue earning exercise. The salient points are:

  • The changes mean the charge will operate from 7am-10pm from Monday June 22, seven days a week. Before the change it operated only 7am-6pm and only on weekdays. Where is the evidence that extending the payment charge to 10pm every day will reduce congestion between 6pm and 10pm?
  • How long is this temporary increase in the congestion charge to be?
  • What is the Mayor’s congestion charge plan in terms of duration, charging period and cost to drivers after the current temporary implementation period ends?
  • As cycle lanes are proven to increase traffic congestion, and therefore pollution, will the Mayor charge cyclists to use their dedicated areas of travel to help in reducing his record debt?
  • TfL has suffered a 90% per cent decline in revenues during the Covid-19 lockdown. Bearing this in mind, why is it only motorists, van drivers and truckers who must fork out extra money, to help reduce London’s debt?
  • Why are river traffic, air traffic, construction equipment/works, wood burners, air conditioning equipment etc. excluded from any charges, considering they contribute more to pollution than passenger cars? By charging theses sources of emissions too, would help the Mayor reduce his record deficit.
  • What is the economic impact on the following because of current punitive changes to the Congestion Charge? Businesses in the Zone, tourism, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, museums, hauliers, private taxis etc.

FairFuelUK took its own Road User Poll earlier this month. It says the divide between cyclists and drivers consciously created by Sadiq Khan is as wide as the Grand Canyon and the survey, which yielded 25,769 responses between July 8th and July 12th shows 91.3% of cyclists are against FFUK/ABD taking legal action whilst 80.9% of drivers support FFUK/ABD taking legal action.

One of Mr Khan’s political opponents Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for mayor, stated his own viewpoint on Mr Khan’s unilateral actions, saying:

“The mayor has been so political that every time the government has ridden to his rescue, he’s punished them for doing it.” Pointing out that the government has already had to bail TfL out to the tune of £3.6 billion for Crossrail. He hasn’t acknowledged that this is all down to his poor management.

“He’s saying about the Congestion Charge that it’s entirely the government’s fault that they made him put it up, but that’s disingenuous. Being a good politician is great, but he is a bad mayor. London does not have an economy if it does not have a public transport system, but he has utterly smashed the finances to pieces in order to make himself look good.

“When the government comes to help him, he then tries to make it their fault. He claims to have balanced the books prior to this but it’s simply not true. He cut 30% of TfL’s staff. We have lost £1.3 billion in income on Crossrail. We are paying £400 million a year in interest payments, and we’ve lost 17 of 25 projects. Ken (Livingstone) and Boris (Johnson) were building things, but he has not built anything, he is behind in his housing targets. He’s preventing the economic recovery of this country by stifling the capital.”