“I feel very sorry for them,” the Mayor said. “This has been a massive failure of public policy, millions of people were told they were doing the right thing, the clean thing, the environmentally friendly thing, by buying a diesel.
“They now feel very hacked off now they’re told they are more polluting.”
The Mayor also proposed a controversial plan for “workplace parking levies” in London, which would charge companies for each parking space they use, and a “geo-fencing” virtual zone within which hybrid cars would automatically switch to electric power.
Mr Johnson published new research on Wednesday, commissioned by City Hall, which ranked London 15th of 36 major cities for clean air, refuting previous claims it is one of the most polluted in Europe.
But MPs told the Mayor he needed to do more to improve air quality in London. Joan Walley, the chair of the committee, said the £10 levy “will leave many Londoners to suffer potentially serious health consequences simply because of where they live or work.”
Earlier on Wednesday Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, announced a said a Labour government would help local authorities outside of London introduce low emission zones.
Councils across the country are facing fines from the EU due to pollution levels which cause 29,000 premature deaths each year, she said.
But her comments prompted concerns among motoring groups who said they would amount to “either a charge or a complete ban or penalty” for diesel drivers.
Paul Watters, head of Roads Policy at the AA, said any such scheme should give drivers eight to 10 years’ notice before penalties are introduced, and be complimented by a scrappage schemes.
“To suddenly throw the switch too quickly would upset the car market and upset drivers and introduce extra costs or a ban, and either one is not going to be very popular,” he said.