Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels will cost up to £4 at peak times, says TfL

<span>Traffic on the A12 towards the Blackwall tunnel in January 2017. The tunnel has been free to use since opening more than a century ago.</span><span>Photograph: Andrew Parsons/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Traffic on the A12 towards the Blackwall tunnel in January 2017. The tunnel has been free to use since opening more than a century ago.Photograph: Andrew Parsons/Rex/Shutterstock

Drivers will be charged up to £4 at peak times for a one-way trip through either the Blackwall tunnel or the new Silvertown tunnel after the latter opens in 2025, Transport for London has announced.

However, TfL is proposing to halve these charges for low-income local residents in east London to use either of the road tunnels under the Thames, as well as exempting buses, black taxis and zero-emission cabs.

Standard off-peak journeys will cost £1.50 for car drivers paying automatically, TfL said, as an eight-week consultation over the proposals opened on Wednesday.

The Blackwall tunnel has been free to use since opening more than a century ago, but TfL has argued since first developing plans for the new Silvertown crossing back in 2012 that both routes under the Thames should incur a charge.

According to TfL, the Silvertown scheme, costing about £2bn, is needed to reduce congestion and enable faster, more reliable journeys in and around east London, and to improve air quality around the Blackwall Tunnel, which is used by about 100,000 vehicles a day.

But campaigners against the project argue it will only lead to more heavy traffic and worsen pollution overall, and have called for the tunnel to be repurposed to promote greener modes of transport.

Road charging has become a fraught political issue, with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, facing a backlash from motorists in parts of outer London since extending the Ulez throughout the capital last year. However, London has the longest-established congestion charge worldwide, which Khan recently confirmed will also apply to electric vehicles from next year when an original exemption expires.

Khan said the additional Thames crossing would make people’s journeys up to 20 minutes faster and reduce chronic congestion and pollution around the Blackwall tunnel.

He said: “The Silvertown tunnel scheme has been years in the making, first developed back 2012.

“Since I become mayor in 2016, we have worked to improve it, adding discounts for low-income residents and local businesses, new bus services, a bespoke cycle shuttle service and free cross-river bus and DLR [Docklands Light Railway] transport for at least the first year.”

Low-income residents of 12 east London boroughs can apply for the 50% reduction, while blue badge holders can drive through for free.

Christina Calderato, director of strategy at TfL, said: “This proposed package of supporting measures aims to ensure the scheme is green and fair [and] delivers on its objectives of reducing congestion and providing resilience at the Blackwall tunnel, while ensuring we support local residents.”

Victoria Rance, from the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, said: “No new tolls would be necessary on river crossings in south-east London if it were not for the mayor’s plan to open this new four-lane motorway tunnel to cars and HGVs. He has created a toxic problem, which he aims to solve by unjust tolls.

“New roads make new traffic and that new traffic will be going through already highly polluted parts of Greenwich and into Newham, the most polluted borough in London, where thousands of children are already exposed to illegal levels of air pollution.”

Caroline Russell, a Green party London assembly member, urged Londoners to “respond to the consultation with creative ideas for repurposing the tunnel, prioritising people walking and cycling and travelling on public transport”.