Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On the C charge

If Ken Livingstone is to be believed, the congestion charge scheme in London has been a success. Earlier, on Channel Four news, the programme quoted the reduction in traffic entering the zone as being at 21%. Livingstone also lays claim to reductions in traffic density outside the zone arguing that people's habits have been modified as a result of his policies. However, from today we are left wondering quite what the 'C' does stand for.

Livingstone this afternoon announced that owners of the highest polluting vehicles entering the congestion charge zone will, from October 27, pay a daily charge of £25. He has also decided that those vehicles which release the lowest emissions - so called hybrids, the Toyota Prius is an example - will drive through the zone without charge. The remaining drivers who do not fall into either bracket will continue to pay the £8 charge. (The mayor's friends at the American embassy will presumably continue resolutely in their 'protest' at this stealth tax).

This immediately presents a problem and I shall have to consider this matter carefully given the mayor has shown a less than equanimous demeanour when challenged by opponents in recent weeks. My disposition is not such that it would easily repel an assertive phone call from Lee Jasper.

There is no escaping the fact: the congestion charge cannot remain so called. From October 27 2008 it will cease to be a congestion charge and becomes a pollution charge, carbon charge, Chelsea tractor charge call it what you will, but don't call it a congestion charge. This may not appear important to some but suspicion is never far from the door of a politician and with Livingstone's veracity seemingly in doubt he would do well to concede this point. It is conceivable that the success of this policy will be measured, not in the numbers abandoning their four wheel drives but in the numbers of those switching to low emissions cars. The inevitable consequence of this will be to increase congestion.

London releases some 800,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and it is estimated that the highest polluting cars account for only 7,500 tonnes of this output. The effect in reducing carbon may be deemed to be negligible. It would be pleasing to commend the mayor on a progressive and pioneering scheme. After all he has already held discreet talks with the mayors of several major cities, including New York, regarding London's implementation of the project. However, he would have been better advised to retain the existing £8 charge for all vehicles and applied the additional levy to those cars he sought to discourage from entering the capital. He has left himself at the mercy of those who accuse him of populism and gesture politics.


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At 1:57 pm , Blogger Finnieston Crane said...

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