London Low Emissions Tax Grab on the Poor

The GLA has sprung a public consultation on us, trying to get us to agree to a tax on horrible polluting vehicles to improve the air quality in central London. It’s the kind of thing that gives environmentalists a bad name – a money grab in the guise of a clean-up.

The idea is that vehicles that don’t meet current emission standards, decided by age, will be clobbered an additional £12 on top of the congestion tax for driving through London. Who’s it going to hit? Not the commercial users (generally speaking) as their vehicle fleets are going to be fairly modern. And not the Chelsea Tractors – they’re too new. It’s going to affect the people least able to afford it – those with an older family car that they keep going rather than scrapping because either they can’t afford a shiny new one, or simply think the conspicuous consumption of the new car market is immoral.

The consultation has some interesting, but cooked, figures for the source of the problem. Even then it doesn’t stack up. But on a proper survey of pollutants like this one it’s even more revealing.

First off, a half of some pollutants come from brake, tyre and road surface wear. Taxing older vehicles isn’t going to change that – it’s got nothing to do with the engine. Then about a third comes from burning gas, and most of that commercial use. The GLA doesn’t mention this!

Then we get to the breakdown from vehicle NO2 emissions. The (current, measured) figures show that:

35% comes lorries (articulated or rigid)
28% is from busses and coaches
21% is from taxis
16% is from cars and motorbikes.

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Of the last figure, 90% of that is likely to be from diesel cars and 10% petrol cars.

Hmm. So which type of vehicle is going to be caught by the tax the most – probably the older cars, and these will probably be petrol (most cars are). Yet they’re responsible for only 2% of the problem.

Okay, if the GLA wishes to slap a £100 charge on coaches and lorries, this will work – it will hasten the replacement of ageing clapped-out diesel engines which will have done enough miles by the time this is introduced in 2020. People with older cars simply don’t operate this way. They’ll just have to pay up, proving this is just a money generating exercise.
The GLA was serious about reducing emissions, they should go for the low-hanging fruit – ban diesel taxis and make them go electric would save 21% at a stroke. And the same with the LRT busses (possibly not coaches). And the beauty of this system is that it won’t cost very much to run.

LGVs (big lorries) are more of a problem. They’re probably not going to head through central London unless they really have to, and the technology doesn’t exist (yet) to replace them. Emissions from these have already been reduced, but they still produce most of the problem. And they’re not going to be taxed, because they meet modern standards. It needs some investment in clever solutions.

The plan appears to be to raise this by taxing the low-income or occasional motorist (i.e. anyone with an older car). That’s not right. If you agree, and want to have your say, click here.


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