Bankers’ car perks set to drive pollution spike in London’s financial districts
Pollution levels in London’s financial districts are set to soar as the world’s biggest finance firms offer car perks to workers to commute to the office amid the coronavirus crisis, according to the government’s ‘clean air’ tsar and the Square Mile’s governing body.
Professor Martin Williams, one of the UK’s ‘clean air champions’, told Financial News that a growing reliance on cars and taxis among City workers during the pandemic would be a “double whammy” for London’s air quality and congestion in the capital.
Pollution levels had been “steadily increasing” in the Canary Wharf area since the beginning of July, added the head of science policy at Imperial College London.
“The more vehicles you have on the road, the more congestion you have and the more [traffic- related pollutant] Nitrogen Dioxide generated,” he said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that from 1 August the country’s home-workers can return to their offices, if their employers decide that they should and that it is safe to do so. This formed part of government efforts to help city-centre economies recover from the Covid-19 crisis.
Williams’ comments were echoed by the City of London Corporation, the local body that runs the Square Mile. Alastair Moss, the chair of the Corporation’s planning and transportation committee, said “increased use of cars and taxis” in the City “would lead to increased congestion, air pollution and road danger”.
Banking giants in London are reimbursing car costs in order to address staff fears over the possible risk of contagion on public transport.
Canary Wharf-based Morgan Stanley offers staff free parking spaces and permission to expense Ubers and parking fees during the pandemic. At Goldman Sachs, based in the City, one trader said London staff are allowed to expense cars to get to work. Meanwhile at Barclays certain staff are also offered a coveted parking space in Canary Wharf, an employee told FN.
An increasing number of firms have either partially reopened their offices, or are planning to allow limited numbers of staff back in phases in the coming weeks.
Taxi companies are already seeing a rush in demand from City workers.
Uber has seen a more than 250% spike in business from corporate accounts since early March. This did not include individuals ordering Ubers through their own account and later expensing it.
Christophe Peymirat, Emea head of Uber for Business, said that financial services firms were asking Uber “about sustainability”, adding that a “the vast part” of Uber’s fleet of cars in London were either electric vehicles or hybrids.
Meanwhile, Addison Lee, another taxi company, said it was in talks with “a number of major businesses”, including those in financial services, to make cars more widely available to City workers as they are phased back to office life.
Wesley Bishop, Addison Lee’s chief commercial officer, said the company’s services were “safe, clean and carbon-neutral”.
However, Andy Byford, Transport for London’s Transport Commissioner, warned on 17 July that “the current situation is unsustainable”: “We must avoid a car-led recovery which would cause gridlock and only make things worse,” he said. “So my message to Londoners returning to public transport is: We are doing everything to keep things clean and safe for everyone.”
The Bank of England’s governor Andrew Bailey told a meeting of UK parliamentarians on 15 July that City workers’ “fear of using public transport is really holding back the recovery because people aren’t going into their office”.
Tube use that same day was 79.1% down compared to 2019, according to the Mayor of London’s office. London’s bus network, meanwhile, was down around 59.6% on 15 July 2020 compared to last year, the person said.