Ulez expansion will make women less safe, Sadiq Khan warnedMay 10th, 2023
Sadiq Khan is under fire for pressing ahead with the Ulez expansion, despite an official report revealing the disproportionate “negative impact” it will have on women.
Equal rights groups have criticised the Mayor of London after his own review found the Ulez expansion would result in women being forced to pay more for public transport when taking their children to school and touched on the safety concerns of women travelling alone on buses.
The Women’s Equality Party, set up by Sandi Toksvig, said the expansion would mean many women living in outer London would have “their access to transport restricted in the middle of a cost of living crisis”.
The Women’s Budget Group, a non-for-profit, said the Ulez expansion could only be made in a “just and inclusive way” if it went “hand in hand with wholesale improvements to public transport”.
Their complaints follow a report commissioned by Transport for London (TfL) which examined the impact the expansion will have on people, the economy and the environment.
While the Mayor’s office insists the expansion will tackle pollution linked to miscarriages and problems during pregnancy, among other health benefits, the 200-page report, conducted by Jacobs, a technical professional services firm, showed that women were likely to be among those hit hardest from the changes out of any group.
The Ulez scheme, which was introduced by Mayor Sadiq Khan in 2019, charges £12.50 a day for cars that are considered polluting, which are typically pre-2015 diesel and pre-2006 petrol vehicles. Those who do not pay the fee will be charged up to £180.
Ulez currently covers most of the city within the North and South Circular but will expand out to all of Greater London within four months, affecting not just those living in outer boroughs but also people driving in non-compliant vehicles from outside the capital.
The report warned that such a scheme would have a “disproportionate impact on women taking children to school in outer London” and who drive a vehicle that would cause the Ulez fee, as they have fewer public transport options available than inner London.
It said women were three times as likely to do the school drop-off in London as men, while they also tend to to “trip-chain” – in which they continue onto another location after the school run – due to the “additional burden of unpaid household work that falls on them, such as doing the school run, grocery shopping, or caring for an older family member.”
The report said: “As a result, if they cannot afford to upgrade their vehicles more women may be forced to pay the charge or use alternative modes of travel that may be far less convenient for multiple destinations”. It added it expects there to be a short to medium term “disproportionate minor negative impact” due to this issue.
The report also said women living in outer London who cannot afford to upgrade their car “may be reluctant to use public transport due to perceptions of the risk to personal safety, and therefore may travel less.”
It added there would be a “disproportionate financial impact for people on low incomes” who travel in “non-compliant” vehicles to their jobs.
It highlighted care workers, who are predominantly women, may struggle to serve the outer London area. It said there were also concerns NHS staff in lower paid positions “would be pushed out of living and working in hospitals and care homes in Greater London”.
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, said if London wanted to tackle the climate emergency and decarbonise the transport system it needed to do this in a “just and inclusive way that allows everyone to move around safely and affordably”, adding that “local authorities cannot ignore the gender disparities within transport systems.”
She said: “There’s no doubt that we will all benefit from cleaner air, so plans to expand Ulez must go hand in hand with wholesale improvements to public transport.
“Women rely more heavily on buses than men, they need better designed bus routes that are affordable, and take into account atypical working patterns, accessibility needs, and safety risks.”
Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said that concerns raised in the report, especially on women with low incomes and marginalised people, would “inevitably be realised following the outer London extension later this year,” saying “it didn’t have to be this way.”
She added: “Women, poorer families and care workers wouldn’t be having their access to transport restricted in the middle of a cost of living crisis if the implementation of Ulez had been coupled with the kind of investment in public transport that could ensure its outright success.”
She added the lack of investment at the same time as the Ulez expansion was “to the detriment of women.”
The TfL report was commissioned after Mr Khan asked Transport for London, of which he is chairman, to consult on expanding Ulez.
However its findings, which also said the expansion would have a “barely perceptible” benefit for the climate, appear to have been largely ignored since being published in May last year.
A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: “The Mayor has been clear that the decision to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide was a difficult one, but necessary to protect the health of Londoners.
“Air pollution is leading to people developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma. It’s also been linked to higher rates of miscarriages and pregnancy complications.
“And all schools across outer London are in areas where air pollution levels exceed World Health Organization recommended guidance, which is leading to children growing up with stunted lungs.
“We know Ulez works as it’s already allowed more than four million people to breathe cleaner air in inner London and harmful nitrogen dioxide concentrations have been cut by nearly half in central London.”
The Mayor’s office added nine in 10 cars seen driving in outer London are already Ulez compliant and will not have to pay the charge. A £110m scrappage scheme will also help Londoners with the most polluting vehicles, including charities, low income and disabled, micro-businesses and sole traders.
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