The government and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, are being urged to exempt key workers from the reimposed and increased congestion charge amid warnings it will penalise those serving the public during the pandemic.

An £11.50 daily charge was reintroduced this week as a condition of a £1.6bn government bailout for Transport for London (TfL).

As part of the deal the cost will rise to £15 from 22 June. The charge, which had been suspended during lockdown, will also be extended from weekdays to the whole week and for longer hours.

Critics say the plan runs counter to pleas by ministers for commuters to use cars if they can to relieve pressure on the transport network. NHS and care home workers will be be entitled to a refund if their employers are based in central London.

A TfL spokesman said: “The rationale for the exemption is a recognition of the essential role they are playing in responding to coronavirus, and the fact that they could come into close contact with a large number of people who have coronavirus, and could infect people they come into contact with.”

But he confirmed all other workers including teachers, police officers, firefighters, and transport workers would have to pay the increase charges in full.

The Metropolitan Police Federation chairman, Ken Marsh, said officers should not be “penalised” for trying to keep London safe. “Since the beginning of this pandemic, police officers in London have worked tirelessly to keep the public safe at no little risk to themselves,” he said.

“To be told that they now have to pay the congestion charge when other key workers retain an exemption is a slap in the face to our brave colleagues. At a time when we are being discouraged from using public transport to get to our places of work, this seems to go completely against government guidelines.”

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition calling for a full exemption for all key workers.

The petition, by Lee Steery, an emergency worker from Thurrock in Essex who works outside the NHS, said the changes would “cost thousands of hard-working people who need to drive into London for work, hundreds, possibly thousands of pounds, a year extra”.

He added: “This will affect key workers, who will be the ones impacted the most due to being shift workers, unable to use public transport at all hours, with no other means of transport, who are the people keeping the currently moving during this pandemic.

“I, like thousands who work for the emergency services, will find it impossible to get to and from work from currently paying barely anything a month in congestion charge to potentially having to pay £75 per five-day working week.”

Lisa Elliott, the Royal College of Nursing’s London director, said: “No one should be financially penalised for working to keep people safe. With 70% of London’s nursing staff living and working in different boroughs, it is only right that nursing staff should exempt from the congestion charge. RCN London are clear that this [exemption] must be a permanent measure.”

The former Labour minister Dame Joan Ruddock tweeted that the new charge was a “kick in the teeth” for low-paid key workers. She also claimed the conditions imposed on the bailout were designed to discredit Khan.

Absolutely appalled at the conditions imposed on TfL by government bailout. Blatant politics designed to discredit Sadiq Khan. Forced to end fares freeze, put up tube & bus fares & congestion charge & remove concessions for youth & over 60s. Kick in teeth 4 low paid key workers

— Dame Joan Ruddock (@joan_dame) May 16, 2020

One commuter, Kath Stirling, told London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, it would cost key workers an extra £57.50 a week for following official advice to travel by car.

What would you suggest that you’ve reinstated the congestion charge, but the key worker isn’t in the nhs or care industry? I’ve been dropping my other half at work for 8 weeks to keep him off public transport/taxis to keep us both safe. now you’re asking us to pay £57.50 a week

— Kathystirling (@kathystirling) May 16, 2020

Another asked Boris Johnson: “How are we meant to maintain social distancing when you … @SadiqKhan are reinstating the congestion charge forcing us all back onto public transport.”

The GMB union, whose members includes couriers, and bus and minicab drivers, said it had “legions” of emails and calls from members worried about costs that could put some of them out of business.

Steve Garelick, its London regional organiser, said: “Those who are carrying out private hire work are now seeing a further increase in the cost of work during an incredibly austere period. They have got to find a way of covering this extra costat a time when there is little or no work. Private-hire drivers feel like they have been sold down the river. Thousands of people feel hurt and angry about this.

“If you are a courier having to deliver into central London, you’re suddenly having to pay a congestion charge, which is taking money off your bottom line. The government needs to put a halt to this until we have come out of the crisis, and then reconsider how and who pays for such a charge.”

Joseph Onyegbule, a private-hire driver, said: “The increase of the £15 congestion charge is more than any of us can bear. I am already having to work a minimum of 14 hours a day.”

He fears the fee increase, which will cost him an extra £6,000 per year, will force him out of business.

He pointed out that for a typical fare to central London he would make £8 or £9, but it would now cost him £11.50 and from next month £15. “I’ll be working below the minimum wage and I’ve got a mortgage to pay,” he said.

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