London's mayor has a tough tax to tackle air pollution. But it's time we sucked it up

Traffic passes along Fleet Street in London. 
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Traffic passes along Fleet Street in London. 

Last week the mayor of London issued a high pollution alert for the capital, which was broadcast across thousands of bus stops, message boards, river pier signs and underground stations.

It marked the tenth time that the air quality alert system has been used since Sadiq Khan came to power.

Khan, from the U.K. Labour party, has made tackling pollution a central policy of his time in office and from April 8 the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will be replacing the Emissions Surcharge (T-Charge) in London.

Diesel cars manufactured before 2015 and vans sold before September 2016 are likely to pay the new penalty, as well as petrol cars or vans built before 2006. They will be charged £12.50 ($16.50) to come into central London at any time and if they travel between 7:00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. Monday to Friday will be hit by a further £11.50 congestion charge.

It's a whopping £24 a day for most affected and any driver who fails to pay the fee will be hit with a £160 fine.

London's transport authority, TfL, has projected the first year of the ULEZ revenue will be £174 million with costs at £47 million. The zone will massively increase in October 2021 to cover an area surrounded by the North and South Circular — two major roads that make up a perimeter roughly 8 miles from the center of London.

Critics say ULEZ is a huge tax on smaller companies. London lawmaker Shaun Bailey, from the Conservative Party, has said the scheme "disproportionately penalizes London's poorest drivers and puts jobs at risk," while the Road Haulage Association has called it a "massive tax burden" that will see "jobs lost" to achieve a modest air quality improvement.

But while it may seem unfair on those who rely on roads to travel for business, can we really afford not to try?

A cyclist passes by vehicles waiting in traffic in London, U.K., on Monday, April 10, 2017.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A cyclist passes by vehicles waiting in traffic in London, U.K., on Monday, April 10, 2017.

Noxious fumes may not be as visible as the smog of old, but they are always there, storing up cancer risk. Research has revealed that pollution can stunt lung growth in children and trigger asthma in hundreds of thousands of people. The British Heart Foundation has described London's poor air quality as a public health emergency.

The odorless tiny particles that slip unnoticed into the air we breathe on our pavements, playgrounds and gardens are the result of the sheer volume of vehicles constantly chugging around the city, often with just one person in them.

One day we will look at our situation much as we now look at smoking inside pubs, cinemas and restaurants and say, "That was ridiculous, right?"

The good news is that the way we travel and move goods looks set to change fast. And lawmakers must allow technology the freedom and license to make it happen more quickly.

Subsidies for electric vehicles, incentives to car share, working from home and greater investment in towns outside of London are all far from radical ideas that currently sit within the grasp of politicians.

Suck it up folks, because it's time that London's illegal pollution was finally choked off.

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