C-charge considers carbon as LEZ consultation begins

The political pressure on London motorists to steer away from gas guzzling cars has shifted up a gear this week with the announcement that the city's congestion charge will soon be tied more closely to carbon emissions.

As things stand, the charge already encourages cleaner vehicles by offering an exemption to those riding motorbikes and the drivers of cars running on alternative fuels, such as hybrid or electric-only vehicles.

Under the new proposals, very efficient, small-engined petrol and diesel cars might also just about scrape through the exemption requirements, while those driving the big emitters would be hit with a charge of £25, more than triple the current rate of £8.

The rates would be based on the new Vehicle Excise Duty Bands, which are now based on carbon emissions rather than engine size and apply to all vehicles registered since March 2006.

Older cars would pay the standard £8 charge, regardless of their emissions.

Those vehicles in Bands A and B would be exempt, those in Band G would pay the higher rate and those in between would continue to pay the existing rate.

At the moment those living within the congestion charge receive a 90% discount, but they would be stripped of this benefit if they chose to drive a Band G vehicle.

This last proposal has a potentially massive impact on central London residents who drive SUVs, people carriers or fuel-greedy sports cars as they will find themselves picking up a daily bill of £25 – an additional £6,500 per year.

The move will be welcomed by environmental groups at war with the Chelsea Tractors, particularly with the planned extension to the west of the congestion charge area.

Ken Livingstone, London’s Mayor, was unapologetic and pointed out that those who chose to drive luxury vehicles would have to decide if they were willing to pay for the environmental damage they were responsible for.

“Londoners are becoming increasingly aware of the need to tackle climate change and reduce C02 emissions. Most vehicles that will be charged £25, in Vehicle Excise Duty Band G, are high priced models,” he said.

“Those who buy them can afford to choose from pretty much the whole of the mainstream car market but have chosen to buy one of the most polluting vehicles.

“By making these changes to the congestion charging scheme we are encouraging people to take into account the impact of their choice of new car on the environment and the planet.

“We are already cleaning up London’s fleet of public vehicles through measures like the introduction of hybrid buses. These new proposals will tackle pollution from private vehicles, and ensure that London is leading the way in the fight against catastrophic climate change.”

Mr Livingstone also announced the opening of consultation into the details of how plans to improve the capital’s air quality by making London a Low Emission Zone would be implemented.

The LEZ, once implemented, will cover the whole of Greater London and will require public service and commercial diesel vehicles to meet environmental standards, effectively banning those with high emissions of polluting gases and particulates from the city.

Buses, coaches, minibuses, lorries and large vans will all eventually be covered by the regulations and taxis will also be expected to meet similar standards under the parallel Taxi Emissions Strategy.

The consultation will focus on the details of the scheme, rather than the general principles which have already been established.

It will consider specifics such as the exact classes of vehicle emission standards, area covered and registration and enforcement procedures.

Subject to the Mayor deciding whether to confirm the scheme order, the soonest the Low Emission Zone could go live is early 2008.

“The proposed Low Emission Zone is the most effective way of quickly reducing pollutants that are among the most harmful to human health. It will make London one of the first cities in the world to have taken such a radical step to tackle air pollution and safeguard our environment,” said Mr Livingstone.

“London suffers the worst air quality in the UK and amongst the worst in Europe. We want people living, working and visiting London to benefit from better air quality and to live longer and healthier lives.”

The full consultation documents can be found on the Transport for London website and there is also a simple questionnaire for members of the public and another for those businesses and fleet operators likely to be affected by the proposals.

There are currently no proposals to cap the emissions of private cars and small vans.

Sam Bond

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