Council strikes deal with Uber to solve safety fears within Fulham 'clean air' traffic scheme

The clean air neighbourhood covers roads west of Wandsworth Bridge Road and south of New Kings Road (Jeremy Selwyn)
The clean air neighbourhood covers roads west of Wandsworth Bridge Road and south of New Kings Road (Jeremy Selwyn)

A solution has been found after women in Fulham raised safety concerns because Uber drivers refused to drop them home in an area covered by a clean air neighbourhood scheme.

Women claimed drivers would not drop them to their door late at night in fear of being fined via a clean air neighbourhood scheme in South Fulham, set up by Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

The scheme aims to reduce pollution and congestion, some of which was being caused by out-of-borough drivers using residential streets as shortcuts.

Under the scheme, residents with cars registered in the borough, their guests, black cabs, carers, business visitors and others with exemptions can go through the scheme’s cameras covering the area without receiving a penalty charge.

But private hire drivers, such as Uber and Bolt, had been refusing to leave people at their door late at night for fear of getting a fine, despite being exempt from the scheme.

Nesse Cannon, owner of the BarreFly fitness studio in Parsons Green, previously told the Standard she had created a WhatsApp safety group off the back of the issue, with 70 women involved.

The issue was said by the council to have arisen due to “data protection issues” which were preventing Uber from sharing the number plates of their drivers.

But it was announced at a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Monday that the issue had finally been resolved, as Uber has now signed an agreement with the borough, enabling a “technical solution” to the issue.

It is thought that with Uber having now agreed to the solution, other ride-hailing apps will follow suit.

The news came as the cabinet voted in favour of making the western part of the clean air neighbourhood permanent, with the eastern part already permanent since December 2021.

The council said that the western section of the scheme - covering roads west of Wandsworth Bridge Road and south of New Kings Road - has already “seen a reduction of over 7,000 vehicles a day using the side streets” since it was established in December 2022.

The authority said this had resulted in 0.65 tonnes less nitrogen oxide polluting the streets and 0.9 tonnes fewer carbon emissions every day.

But several concerned locals said the scheme had caused congestion on main roads and had slashed businesses’ footfall and trade.

Borough resident David Tarsh said the scheme has “divided the local community, damaged local businesses, harmed people’s livelihoods and their lives, and it raises serious ethical concerns”.

He said that while the scheme may be “well intentioned”, it has “backfired”, adding: “Streets that should be free for everyone to use are policed by cameras. It has sown discord, splitting residents into winners and into losers.”

The council pointed to the results of an online and doorstep consultation of residents and businesses, carried out by Opinium.

The online element of the consultation found that 65 per cent of residents in the western section of the clean air neighbourhood shceme supported the “general principle” of reducing the amount of out-of-borough “rat-runners”, who use neighbourhood streets as cut-throughs. Some 29 per cent were opposed.

Among the rest of the borough’s residents however, support for the “general principle” was only at 45 per cent, with 46 per cent opposed.

Support among businesses, according to the online consultation, was lower. Thirty-four per cent of businesses in the western part of the scheme were strongly supportive of the “general principle”, with 59 per cent opposed. Across the rest of the borough, support from businesses was also at 34 per cent, with 57 per cent opposed.

The council also cited an analysis of footfall and consumer spend trends using data from the Greater London Authority over a two-year period. The data cited showed a “recovery for businesses in South Fulham”, following the busy Christmas 2023 period, which was “slightly better than Hammersmith town centre”, the council said.

Business owner Neil McCarroll told the meeting he was aware of businesses in the borough which had laid off staff or had to close due to the effects of the scheme.

“There is not only real distress about a downturn in trade, but they [other businesses] all note that traffic on the boundary roads is worse than ever. Congested and slow-moving traffic with engines idling are increasing pollution, not cutting it down,” he said.

Council leader Stephen Cowan said: “We are very alert to wanting to see businesses thrive, and it would be quite wrong for anybody to say that we would take measures that would knowingly damage businesses.”

He later added that the council will “bend over backwards to make this an exemplary scheme”, by acting on residents’ concerns to improve it.

There were also residents who spoke in support of making the scheme permanent.

Local resident David Morris said: “For decades we have been plagued with rat-running through traffic.

“The constant refrain that all the traffic in the area has just been displaced onto the perimeter roads is just not true. Some has, but some has disappeared. People have either decided to go on public transport, or [decided] that the journey is just not necessary.”

Every street within the clean air neighbourhood is accessible to vehicles without going through a camera. The cameras in place are intended to reduce vehicles cutting across the area covered by the scheme.