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Fierce High Court Battle For Mayor Khan’s London ULEZ Plans

Several Conservative run local councils have argued in the High Court that the mayor and Transport for London’s (TfL) plans to enlarge London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) are unlawful. They are hoping their case will be successful before the reach of the zone is significantly increased on August 29th.

On What Grounds is the ULEZ Expansion Being Challenged?

Objections are based on the inadequacy of the methodology used to gather views on the proposals. They were described in court as “unfair and unlawful” by the London Boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon as well as Surrey County Council ” who are orchestrating the challenge. It has been alleged that “key information was not disclosed” during the consultation. The mayor’s representatives deny that accusation. They maintain that all relevant information was fully provided, “to enable an intelligent response and satisfy the requirements of fairness for consultations”.

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The ULEZ will require vehicle owners in the extended area to pay a daily fee of £12.50 if their vehicle fail to meet emissions standards. The majority of petrol vehicles below 16 years of age and diesel vehicles under six years comply with the emissions standards. However there are fears that owners of non-compliant vehicles are likely to be the least well off in society who will struggle to upgrade to acceptable models. Also, in outer London where public services are often more difficult to reach, with less frequent services, alternative modes of transport are impractical. Commuters that need to drive to get to low paid jobs will be hit incredibly hard.

The mayor has established a £110 million scheme to offer grants to those scrapping non-ULEZ compliant vehicles. However this was also described as “unlawful” due to the absence of a “buffer zone” for non-Londoners who will be impacted. The court was told that the mayor “personally considered” the amount of funding to make available under the scrappage scheme. He had “rationally” decided that the final methodology would mitigate a sufficient degree of the ULEZ expansion impact. And “Where there are finite public funds, if there are good reasons for giving preference to Londoners, that inevitably means not giving others the same benefit. These are discretionary public spending decisions.” He added that the Greater London Authority had “very limited funds over which there are many competing demands.” People and businesses within Greater London were said to be, “Generally less able to avoid the charge from the expanded ULEZ than those outside Greater London”.

Outlining the opposing councils case, Craig Howell Williams KC, said in court that, “It is beyond Mr Khan’s powers to introduce the Ulez charge to an outer London zone about three times the size of the current inner London area by varying existing regulations.” Legal “safeguards” would be bypassed which were, “designed to ensure that any new ‘charging scheme’ is properly considered before coming into effect”. Information provided when collating views on the plans was described as “unintelligible” presented a “confused picture” and required people to perform “a form of linguistic gymnastics or paper chase in relation to information which was central to TfL’s assessment”. Details of how TfL reached an estimated 91% compliance rate of vehicles meeting ULEZ standards in outer London were said to be absent.

The views of the mayor and TfL were represented Ben Jaffey KC. The “primary objective” of the ULEZ expansion “to improve London’s air quality, in particular reducing nitrogen oxides and particulates” was outlined. Getting “London’s air quality closer to legal limits, where they are exceeded, and World Health Organisation guideline levels everywhere” was highlighted as a necessity. The fact the incumbent and previous mayors have used the authority of the position to alter London’s emissions zone rules at numerous junctures over the past 16 years was presented. The councils’ objections were described as “bizarre” with the amount of materials supplied by the consultation as “enormous” as well as an “explanation of complex modelling and detailed analysis of impacts.”

When Will a Decision on ULEZ Expansion be Made?

The two day High Court hearing concluded on July 5th. Mr Justice Swift intends to provide his ruling before July 31st 2023.

Sadiq Khan’s “Tesla Fund” for Private Hire Fails

Another issue potentially causing the mayor as headache was the collapse of a company he authorised part funding for in order to help PH drivers purchase Tesla cars. Breathe was created just over a year ago. It received a £3.2 million grant from the Mayor of London’s Energy Efficiency Fund (MEEF) in March 2022.

Administrators were subsequently appointed in June of this year and it is feared that that the public money will be written off. The company planned to purchase 100 Teslas and rent them to drivers with payments including maintenance and insurance costs. The drivers would have the option to purchase the vehicles at the expiry of their lease agreements. Drivers were also offered £500 scrappage to adopt EV motoring.

The MEEF has up to £500 million to invest in schemes aimed at promoting sustainable transportation and reducing emissions. Sadiq Khan is clearly passionate about tackling air pollution and creating a cleaner, greener transportation system in the Capital. However, the intended goals of this particular use of public money appeared overly optimistic at best. Hopefully lessons can be absorbed from this outcome.

Tesla vehicles, while renowned for their innovative technology and sustainability features, come with a higher price tag compared to traditional combustion engine cars. The high acquisition costs no doubt made it challenging for private hire drivers, who often operate on tight profit margins, to afford these vehicles even with substantial financial assistance from the fund. Additionally, higher than average operational expenses, including maintenance and insurance, probably added to the overall cost burden, preventing many drivers from either participating in the program at the outset or managing to afford their repayments once part of it.

This experience highlights the importance of comprehensive stakeholder engagement when considering the promotion of sustainable transportation initiatives. Moving forward, it is crucial for policymakers to learn from these challenges and design more practical and inclusive approaches that encourage the transition to electric vehicles in the private hire sector and beyond.

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