City Hall must pay attention to evidence instead of plunging thousands into transport poverty.
Air pollution in London, as in other cities, is a significant issue. Harmful NOx gas comes from several sources. The major culprits are residential and commercial boilers and energy distribution, with large diesel vehicles such as Transport for London (TFL) buses and commercial trucks a close second. Diesel cars also factor in the equation.
Motorcycles do not use diesel fuel and according to TFL's figures contribute around 0% of London's NOx pollution.
The Office of National Statistics has good data which tells us that over 6,000 people in London die from lung disease annually. This figure includes illnesses caused by smoking as well as air pollution and other causes like pneumonia. The calculation which blames air pollution for 9,500 deaths claimed by some campaigners and repeated by City Hall is controversial, originally guessed by a think tank with no medical focus. But even one death from a preventable cause is too many, let alone hundreds. Something must be done.
The Mayor's proposed solution is to start charging all pre 2007 motorcycles and pre 2006 cars, lorries and buses within the vast area bordered by the North and South Circular roads £12.50 or more every single day. This tax, known as the ULEZ charge, will be applied to diesel guzzling trucks as much as it will to motorcycles which contribute close to 0% of total NOx emissions.
Motorcycles and scooters have been demonstrated to be a major part of the solution to congestion and pollution. If 10% of car users switch to motorbikes, congestion reduces by 40%. And if a quarter of them switch, congestion is eliminated altogether. Given that our two wheeled vehicles produce virtually no NOx emissions compared to cars and buses, charging us 100% of the ULEZ tax for simply leaving our home and travelling to work is hard to fathom.
The proposal to charge congestion busting and pollution reducing motorcycles appears even more harmful when one considers who rides them. Public transport in the capital is prohibitively expensive, slow and unreliable. Many motorcyclists have no choice: we have to get to work somehow. Many of us work shifts, and many are on the minimum wage. A care assistant with young kids who works two jobs and lives in Zone 9 cannot afford the luxury of spending four hours each day on painfully slow expensive buses and trains on which she runs an increased risk of assault. Her choice of a scooter which she has looked after so well for ten years, which gets her 125 miles to a gallon and contributes nothing to London's NOx emissions, is the best solution for everyone. Taxing her journey at £12.50 a day will plunge her into transport poverty. She will lose her jobs on the other side of London, and will join the many thousands of Londoners who rely on food banks. Applying the ULEZ charges to motorcycles and scooters is a cold and ruthless assault on the poorest working Londoners: the people who teach our kids, care for our elderly, and deliver our Friday night pizza.
So why is this happening? The think tank report which recommended the ULEZ extension to the North and South Circular argued that the charges should only be applied to diesel cars and made no mention of motorcycles. In fact it recommended increasing the use of other vehicle types, which includes motorcycles. Before his election, Sadiq Khan himself wrote to the Motorcycle Action Group acknowledging that motorcycles and scooters were an important part of the solution to London's transport predicament. The academic community is united in its view that motorcycles and scooters are a sustainable and low impact solution to congestion, along with a myriad other benefits, from improved road safety to combating dementia. But TFL seems dead set on introducing this tax on motorcycles, with no reason given.
City Hall should by all means seek creative ways to address NOx emissions produced by diesel vehicles in pollution hotspots. Persuading parents in diesel powered SUVs waiting for their kids with the engine running outside primary schools to turn the engine off could be a start. Looking at which outdated on road hard infrastructure is contributing to congestion and pollution could also help. But the evidence is clear: applying the ULEZ charge to motorcyclists will hurt all Londoners, not just those who ride and their families. Motorcycles should be exempt. City Hall must pay attention to evidence instead of plunging thousands into transport poverty.