Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Driving a 4x4? That'll be £25 a day, please

By David Millward, Transport Correspondent
The Telegraph (London)
Last Updated: 2:17am GMT 15/11/2006

Owners of 4x4 vehicles — the so-called Chelsea Tractors — will pay £25 a day for the privilege of driving in London under plans announced yesterday by the city's mayor.

Ken Livingstone had a further penalty for drivers of the most-polluting cars who also live in central London with a proposal to abolish the 90 per cent residents' discount on the charge for entering the city's congestion zone.

This means that such residents would pay £125 if they took their 4x4s out on to the road on Monday to Friday. Weekends are exempt from the charge, which began at £5 in 2003 and is now £8 a day.

Councils around the country are expected to monitor the London charging and could follow suit if it is deemed to be a success.

But they would expect to be allowed to reinvest the money raised by such means in other forms of public transport.

"Road charging is certainly one way local authorities may wish to tackle congestion problems if they are given the power to re-invest that money into public transport," said David Sparks, the Local Government Association's transport spokesman.

"Councils will therefore be monitoring the introduction of variable charging in London with great interest."

Mr Livingstone's initiative is the latest to discourage ownership of "gas guzzlers".

It comes within weeks of nearby Richmond-upon-Thames, where the council is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, announcing the tripling of the cost of parking permits for cars in Band G (that is, those with carbon dioxide emissions above 225g per kilometre).

Mr Livingstone's move was more draconian than anticipated. While his intention to impose a £25 charge for some cars had been trailed, it had been assumed that the residents' discount would remain.

Owners of Band G models will have three years to consider trading them in for something smaller assuming the mayor's proposals come into force by the winter of 2009-10.

The move was condemned by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Conservative MP for Kensington and Chelsea, whose constituents will find themselves inside an extended congestion zone from February.

"It is an outrageous proposal and one that shows that the London mayor is going well beyond his proper responsibilities," he said.

"This is nothing to do with congestion at all. His whole approach is political."

Edmund King, of the RAC Foundation, said owners of more routine cars, including the Ford Mondeo 2.5 litre and the two-litre Renault Espace, would also be hit.

"We support proposals to remove the congestion charge from the least-polluting vehicles but have concerns about a blanket charge for all vehicles in Band G," he added.

"Consumers and manufacturers need longer time scales to change vehicles or to produce cleaner vehicles. The current proposals would hit certain species of Mondeo man as well as several popular people carriers.

"We hope that the mayor will approach the detail of this consultation with an open mind."

Mr Livingstone tried to sweeten the pill by extending the proposed congestion charge exemption to cars with carbon dioxide emissions of less than 120g per kilometre. Beneficiaries include drivers of the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid.

He was unrepentant about his plans to hit the owners of Band G cars hard.

"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," he said.

"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."


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