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London needs to talk about roads pricing for cars

London Cycling Campaign's Chief Executive says roads pricing needs to be "on the table" as an option to fund cycle infrastructure and keep the capital moving...

Roads pricing for cars should be "on the table" as an option to pay for cycling infrastructure in the face of budget cuts, according to the London Cycling Campaign’s (LCC) Chief Executive.

Transport for London (TfL) faces the loss of its entire operational budget of £700m by 2020, and last week we reported TfL considered - and decided against - charging cyclists to use cycle tracks, while Boris Johnson has suggested devolving Vehicle Excise Duty (often incorrectly called road tax) to pay for roads.

When asked about how to tackle “extreme” cycle funding cuts in future, in an interview for the LCC’s Chief Executive, Ashok Sinha, said cycling is essential to keep the capital moving, and funding for it must continue.

Transport for London considered charging cyclists for road use

“There are many of us who sit back and think, well, hasn’t the time now come for road pricing? Not for everyone, because when you look at cycling as being part of the solution, it’s [about] incentivising a shift to cycling,” said Sinha.

“We’re trying to disincentivise excessive motor traffic use and shifting people out of those vehicles onto bikes, so it doesn’t make sense to apply that road charge to cycling.”

Sinha called TfL’s aim to become “the first transport authority in the world” to meet its costs through fares “admirable” but said it’s something being forced on them - with the Department for Transport facing cuts of 37% by 2020, TfL’s £700m operational budget will be wiped out by the end of the decade.

In 2011 the Green Party commissioned a report which recommended charging motorists 20p per kilometre to drive on London’s roads, which could raise around £3.9m per day - £1.4bn per year.

Sinha, who also discussed the charity’s upcoming Sign for Cycling campaign (more on this soon), said: “TfL is under the same pressure as all public bodies of doing more for less, so that’s why they’re talking about this, that’s why they’re talking about selling land.”

He said although outside LCC's sphere of advocacy, roads pricing is something that needs to be discussed.

“It’s not something LCC’s expressly calling for, I just suggest that these kind of things have to be back on the table.”

We just make the case that investment in cycling has to continue - and it has to continue to grow.”

“It’s not a party political point, economists on the left and right have all said: ‘essentially, it’s paid for, this resource [the roads], but the user doesn’t pay to use it’.”

Last year the Green Party’s candidate for London Mayor, Sian Berry, has suggested replacing the congestion charge with a roads pricing system reflecting how far a person drives, the time of day and how polluting the vehicle is.

Sinha said: “The technology is, as I understand it, available to dynamically charge, so you can react to conditions as they are, to look at different times of day or different locations."

He said cycling relieves pressure on the capital’s congested roads and public transport system, and though precisely predicting the effect of new bike lanes on motor traffic through traffic modelling is not an exact science “we can be very precise about what’s going to happen to London if you have two million more people and nobody can get about any more.”

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