Launched by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in a bid to tackle the capital’s toxic air crisis, the scheme will see those driving older, more-polluting petrol and diesel vehicles billed £10, on top of the current £11.50 congestion charge.
The new levy - which is expected to affect 34,000 motorists a month - will mainly apply to vehicles registered before 2006, which typically do not meet the required Euro 4 standards.
Drivers of these cars will be expected to pay the charge every weekday between 7am and 6pm, with cameras around the capital used to enforce it.
Speaking ahead of the launch of the T-Charge, which came into force at 7am today (Monday), Khan said it was time to “join the battle to clean the toxic air we are forced to breathe”.
Find out everything you need to know about the new T-Charge here.
“As Mayor, I am determined to take urgent action to help clean up London’s lethal air,” he said.
“The shameful scale of the public health crisis London faces, with thousands of premature deaths caused by air pollution, must be addressed.
“Today marks a major milestone in this journey with the introduction of the T-Charge to encourage motorists to ditch polluting, harmful vehicles.
According to the Labour politician, the levy is the first step in preparing Londoners for the the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, which could be introduced as early as April 2019.
A report last week found that pollution is killing 50,000 people in the UK each year, with the chief executive of the British Lung Foundation saying air pollution is reaching “crisis point worldwide”.
But the T-Charge has divided public opinion, with many accusing the scheme of targeting Britain’s poorest drivers.
Shaun Bailey, conservative environment spokesman at the London Assembly, told BBC News: “As an asthmatic I’m well aware of how critical an issue this is for London but we need policies that actually deliver progress.
“By boasting about a policy that so disproportionately penalises London’s poorest drivers and puts jobs at risk, the mayor is simply blowing more smoke into the capital’s already-polluted atmosphere.”
Drivers also took to Twitter to slam the new fees:
But responding to claims that the charge would have no impact, Khan told Radio 4′s Today programme this morning: “I’m hoping that after a few weeks and months, we will see a drop in the number of people driving the most-polluting vehicles into Central London.
“The Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, plus this means that by 2020 - the end of my first term - [there will be a] 50% reduction in nox and particulate matters in Central London,” he said.
“That means fewer adults suffering from asthma, strokes and dementia, but also children hopefully not having the under-developed lungs they currently do.”
Many clean-air activists have backed also the move. Professor Nadine Unger, an expert on air pollution and public health at the University of Exeter, called it “an important step in the right direction”.
“London is still one of the most polluted cities in Europe, in the 21st century, even after decades of control strategies,” she said. “Dirty road vehicles are the major cause.
“The business cost assessments are extremely misleading because they ignore the short- and long-term NHS costs associated with serious public health damage from breathing in toxic pollution.”