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TfL outlines ULEZ plans, but offers low ambitions for electric vehicle charge points

Rhona Munck, TfL’s senior strategy and planning manager, summarised the current status of London’s proposed Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), provision for a grant to purchase new, compliant vehicles and progress on plans to expand the Capital’s network of charge points as it seeks to reduce NOx pollution.

Munck reminded operators of the September 2020 date for when anything less than EU4 petrol and EU6 diesel vehicles would be charged a £12 fee to operate in the current congestion charge zone. The various, familiar, intermediate deadlines for registering ‘zero emissions capable’ vehicles were also mentioned, alongside the key 2033 date when all taxis will need to be capable of zero emissions operation.

This allowed the conversation to move neatly onto TfL’s charging point plans, which involve a private investment model that Munck announced was currently in the business tender stage. The regulator is planning 150 points by the end of 2018 and 300 by the end of 2020.

Reference was also made to the new London mayor’s proposals for even tighter controls on emissions. Sadiq Khan’s T-charge concept for charging higher polluting vehicles more to access the current congestion zone, a further expansion of said zone and focus on buses and other heavy vehicles being the headline topics.

Congress chair Mark Bursa observed that the combination of a modest choice of appropriate zero-emissions vehicles and the speed at which the proposals were being implemented, was unfair towards private hire operators. Also, black cabs would be legal for much longer than a cleaner private hire equivalent, calling into question the scheme’s usefulness and branding the black cab “the elephant in the room.”

PD Congress report Peter Blake and Rhona Munck

In fairness, Blake conceded that vehicle choice was evolving and the project was a challenge, but it was something they’d take forward “for the health of London and Londoners.”

iRide’s Duncan Blackett was asked how the changes would impact his business, and the main concern was the potential to lose owner-drivers who failed to remain compliant. He observed that, while big operators had been consulted, individuals had not, which could see them disappear.

The other main concern was charging point availability. TfL’s plans appeared modest to many observers, with the added complexity of progress at the mercy of private enterprise. With Addison Lee’s Dominick Moxon-Tritsch suggesting that TfL doesn’t have legal powers to force London boroughs to hand over space to build charging point parking spaces, the wider view was that capacity won’t meet demand.

Moxon-Tritsch also queried another variable: charging costs. Would there be a price cap, for instance? TfL’s belief in the open market to provide many of the answers did little to allay fears of more cars than charge points and the prospect of unsustainable electricity costs.

TfL’s passion for the environmental cause was evident, and a survey of congress attendees showed many were in broad agreement that such a plan was ultimately necessary. However, it was clear that many delegates appeared uncomfortable with the prospect of an understated demand for a yet to be built charging network, the idea that black cabs will survive for longer than they should and the expense of upgrading vehicles even with government grant - especially at a time of increased competition and economic uncertainty.

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ProDriver Congress London 2016 photo gallery