Calls to scrap congestion charge for police officers

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Police officers must be exempt from the congestion charge during the coronavirus outbreak, the London Assembly has said.

NHS staff, ambulance workers, carers and fire fighters are not paying the fee – but police will be charged, under City Hall plans.

Now Assembly members have called on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to rethink his decision.

The congestion charge, designed to reduce traffic on busy roads in the city centre, was reintroduced on 18 May.

It had been scrapped during Covid-19 lockdown to help key workers get to their jobs while avoiding public transport.

But bringing back the traffic levy was a condition of the £1.6 billion Government bailout of Transport for London (TfL) agreed two weeks ago.

The emergency cash will keep trains and buses running until September.

Mr Khan plans to increase the congestion charge on June 22 from £11.50 to £15.

The levy will operate  seven days a week – not just on weekdays – and apply for an extra five hours each evening, running from 7am to 11pm.

But forcing police to pay when other emergency workers are excluded has sparked anger in the force.

Metropolitan Police Federation boss Ken Marsh branded the Mayor’s decision “insulting”.

Around 500 police officers enter the congestion charge zone each day, Mr Marsh believes – and all of them will have to pay the increased fee if they drive.

“This comes at a time when we’re being told to avoid public transport – it just beggars belief,” he said.

“Police officers do everything other emergency services do – but now they’re being penalised for going to work.

“And on top of that, the Mayor is increasing the charge and hours, so it’ll hit every one of our shifts.”

Mr Marsh said he asked Deputy Mayor for Policing Sophie Linden to exempt officers from the fee – but claims City Hall is “adamant” police will have to pay.

Numerous officers have been assaulted during lockdown, and enforcing new laws with no training has been a strain, he added.

“It’s a constant battle, and it’s been very tiresome and very stressful at times,” Mr Marsh said. “That’s what we do, it’s our job – but this is an insult.”

The London Assembly police and crime committee wrote to Mr Khan, urging him to change course immediately.

Committee chairman Unmesh Desai said it was “the right thing to do”.

“Police officers have been going above and beyond to help Londoners and their communities in the fight against Covid-19,” he said.

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“It’s not right that they have not been exempt from the congestion charge at a time when Londoners are being told to avoid public transport if possible.”

But Conservative group leader Susan Hall – also a police and crime committee member – said the charge should not be increased in the first place.

“TfL’s finances are in a complete and utter mess – but raising the congestion charge is ridiculous,” she said.

“We’ve to to get London moving again, and get the economy going, and this is not the way to do it.”

Ms Hall said there was “no doubt” the charge had to be brought back to prevent traffic jams – but claimed a sudden increase “when some people have been without wages for months” was a “disgrace”.

The Mayor could save money elsewhere by cutting free travel perks for family and friends of TfL staff, and giving workers less time off for union roles, she claimed.

“There is money all over the place,” Ms Hall said. “But the Mayor wants to help his unionised friends – and the police aren’t unionised.”

Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon said other essential workers, as well as police, must get a free pass from the congestion charge.

Charity volunteers bringing meals to vulnerable residents during the pandemic should not be penalised, she said.

Ms Pidgeon accepts a “temporary increase” to the charge – but believes the fee should be fully reviewed in future.

A spokesperson for the Mayor said police officers are doing “a phenomenal job” keeping Londoners safe during the pandemic.

But reintroducing the congestion charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone, and bringing forward proposals “to widen the scope and level of the charges”, was a condition of the Government bailout, she said.

“This was a condition of a deal made at breakneck speed, and with TfL, we are working through the specific proposals currently,” she added.

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