The Conservative candidate for mayor of London has told Premier Sadiq Khan's change to the congestion charge is a "worship tax".
The amount one has to pay to drive into central London is now £15 a time, unless you are a resident, and the hours that applies have been extended to 10pm and now include weekends. It was £11.50 and ended at 6pm.
London churches reckon this could mean thousands of people might find it difficult to come to church every week because of the cost.
Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate who will be challenging Sadiq Khan for the job next year, is a Christian and told Premier (video below): "This is now a worship tax. Why have they extended it to Sundays and across the weekend? It is a worship tax. I can tell you people who keep a car specifically just to travel to church and now it's going to cost them £15 - this is the worship tax at the very wrong time. It really is bad."
Bailey, a former youth worker, said this might mean the long anticipated wait for church services, which are allowed to return next month, might not be a reality for everyone: "If you're anything like me, I am chomping at the bit to get back to church, but for some people this will mean that they can't do that. The lifeblood of a church are the people in that church. If you cannot get to church, then what is the church going to do?"
The hike is part of a funding deal with the Government and Transport for London and to curb traffic to help the city cope with social distancing.
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London told Premier Christian News: "The Government was absolutely clear that TfL must bring forward proposals to widen the level and scope of the Congestion Charge. If Assembly Member Bailey doesn't like it he needs to raise this with the Government.
"The Mayor will respond to all communities who have raised concerns to explain the temporary changes and options available to members of their community, including any relevant discounts and exemptions such as the Blue Badge and Cleaner Vehicle Discount. People living in the zone who need to drive are now able to make new applications for the residents' discount before the extended deadline of 1 August."
The Mayor's website says: "Those who access religious services within the CCZ by car during the proposed extended charging hours may find it more difficult to do so due to increased costs. For many this will be a new cost because religious services often take place during the evenings or at weekends. This could be mitigated to a certain extent by making use of an existing discount or exemption.
"TfL data from July to December 2019, showed that people making journeys once or twice a week into the CCZ accounted for three per cent of unique vehicle entries to the CCZ suggesting that this will be a relatively minor overall impact."
Stefan Rousseau / PA
The Mayor also said that even after places of worship reopen there will be limited attendance, which will reduce the impact of the change.
However, Bailey explained the relational toll this charge would take as measures start to ease: "Ultimately, we want to get back together. That's how we build community. That's how we look after our young and our elderly, by being together.
"A step like this, not only will it affect church life, it also affects family life. If you take me, I live very far across London for my Mum, I live east, she lives west. I need to drive through the middle, that's now going to cost me £15 and it will reduce the amount of times I can afford to do that. It will affect family life as well as church."
The 49-year-old has promised to reverse the policy on "day one" if he gets elected in the postponed poll next year, but argues that the traditional congestion charge is right for London. A petition on the matter has been signed by 43,000 people so far.
Speaking about what church leaders can do now, as well as signing his petition, he advised: "Speak to your congregations, see if there's anything that you can do to mitigate that, are there people with newer cars? Can you get a minibus going? Can you share trips?"
In terms of churches reopening as the lockdown eases, Bailey advised keeping in politicians' good books: "You may have to put on extra services for instance if you have a big church, so get all your young pastors out because you're going to need them! But those extra services, those social distancing measures, all of those things mean that we can do church and we should do church.
"I think it's our opportunity as a Christian community, as a church going community, to show that we can do these things safely because if we can do this - three, four, five, six months down the line - we can get measures ease again. But it'll be all about how well we do it now."