First Day of Sadiq Khan's Anti-Car Crackdown Marred by Computer Issues, Protests

Londoners face fines after Sadiq Khan’s considerable expansion of the anti-car ‘ULEZ’ charge which took force on Tuesday saw the scheme’s website overloaded with visitors, and hit with the impact of a sustained campaign against the scheme, including protests and vandalism against the zone’s infrastructure.

The first day of the expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), a system of levies and fines designed to drive motor traffic away from London which used to cover the heavily urban inner regions but as of this week rolled out to the suburban and even semi-rural areas of the Greater London area started on Tuesday, but not to universal acclaim.

While London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has made pushing green politics a central theme of his leadership has insisted he and his followers are on the right side of history, some citizens of outlying London boroughs where public transport is less developed and for whom having a car or truck may be more essential to their livelihood than for desk-bound city workers, say it is a mistake.

The ULEZ expansion was marred by computer issues on Tuesday as it rolled out, as the London government’s transport authority website was inundated with visitors checking whether their vehicles are compliant with the new rules. The erection of new infrastructure does not appear to have made it in time for the expansion either, with the Daily Mail reporting in some London areas there is no signage warning motorists they are about to enter the ULEZ area.

A person checks their vehicle on the Transport for London (TfL) webiste on a mobile phone, on the first day of the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) to include the whole of London. The capital has become the world’s largest pollution charging area with a £12.50 daily fee for the most polluting vehicles. Picture date: Tuesday August 29, 2023. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)

These shortcomings have led the UK’s transport minister to call on Mayor Khan to engage in fine forgiveness for the first days of the new scheme, as it is feared many will be caught up in the problems and end up inadvertently being charged up to £180 penalties. The Daily Telegraph reported UK transport boss Mark Harper said it was “not reasonable” to fine members of the public in such circumstances.

As well as the homegrown failures of Khan’s London government to prepare for launch day, the infrastructure of the newly expanded ULEZ zone has also been the target of a campaign of sustained sabotage by protesters who say the ULEZ expansion is a tax on London’s less wealthy blue-collar workers by a small urban elite. As previously reported, that vandalism has taken the form of the smart cameras deployed to monitor which vehicles come and go from the zone being stolen, damaged, or disconnected, as well as attacks on signage.

The campaign against ULEZ cameras, undertaken by self-identified ‘Blade Runners’ has clearly had an impact in some areas, with groups tracking the deployment and status of ULEZ tech across London reporting last week that in some neighbourhoods there were almost no functioning cameras at all. The Mayor’s office has insisted it has the resources to get past this campaign and police are trying to hunt down the saboteurs.

The Telegraph cites the comments of a Conservative Greater London Authority Assembly member, Keith Prince, who said between the failures of the London government and the impact of the sabotage, the rollout had been bogged down in chaos. He is reported to have said: “It has been chaotic today, and I have seen pure anger out on the streets. Sadiq Khan hasn’t got enough cameras – he is supposed to have 2,700 cameras, but as of last Friday only 1,900 had been installed and about 500 of them have been vandalised.”

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – AUGUST 29, 2023: Demonstrators protest in Whitehall outside Downing Street against ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) scheme as it expands to cover the entire capital area in London, United Kingdom on August 29, 2023. From today drivers entering any part of London are subject to £12.50 levy if their vehicle doesn’t meet emission standards in an effort to tackle air pollution. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Protesters also took to the streets on Tuesday, holding banners outside Downing Street, the official residence of the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. While the government is not responsible for the ULEZ expansion — as a devolved region, the London government is exercising its own powers — protesters accused Sunak of failing to step in to prevent it going ahead.

Brexit leader Nigel Farage visited the protest and has spoken about ULEZ at length on his television show. In remarks on Tuesday afternoon, he suggested the outlying regions of greater London which disagreed with rule from the centre could consider ceding from London altogether and rejoining the historic counties they once belonged to, before the creation of the Greater London Area last century. This, he joked, felt like “Brexit all over again”.


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