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Mayor Ken's Low Emission Zone - a load of hot air?

Motorist surveillance goes orbital

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Where do the dirty doers go?

One of the concerns of commercial operators has been that they should have adequate time to prepare for implementation, and some of them might well think that upgrading a whole commercial fleet in nine months is unreasonably brisk. But all TfL's buses, notes the announcement, already conform to LEZ standards.

The LEZ will undoubtedly have an effect in London, and as the objective is to improve air quality rather than simply raise revenue, it is likely to squeeze the most polluting vehicles out - and if this doesn't happen early on, fees will likely be made even more punitive in order to make sure it does happen. The LEZ will also eventually be applied to all commercial vehicles, so will have the general effect of bringing up the standards of those vehicles within the zone.

But where do the older vehicles go? Naturally these vehicles should have some value - albeit reduced, so clearly they will be sold outside of London. So while Londoners will benefit from the LEZ, people living outside London will have the polluting vehicles turning up in their areas.

To quote TfL from last November: "While non-compliant vehicles being redeployed away from London could increase emissions elsewhere, this would be more than off-set by the change in the fleet overall." UK citizens who don't live in London will no doubt share their joy over this shining example of joined-up transport policy.

As the later phases of the scheme start to bite home, the pain will begin to extend beyond the easy target of big, old, smokey trucks. Once it is applied to smaller vehicle, such as minibuses, community organisations, schools, the scouts, and voluntary groups will be obliged to find the cash to buy a nice shiny new vehicle.

Taxis, or Hackney Carriages, also produce a lot of pollution, and since 2 April, 2005, an additional 20p "environmental levy" has been added to each taxi fare so that, to quote TfL: "Taxi drivers can invest in equipment that will allow them to comply with the Mayor's taxi emissions strategy."

Ken Livingstone can be assured that there won't be any complaints from taxi drivers - as each one will have been saving up the 20 pence coins in a jar in order to buy a new vehicle.

Unpaid fines

Foreign vehicles, as was the case with the Congestion Charge, are an obvious bugbear, but probably also a handy source for future outraged speeches by the Mayor.

Currently, most foreign registered commercial vehicles incurring a penalty charge notice (PCN) never cough up. To quote TfL: "From 1991 to 2006, the number of foreign registered vehicles (FRVs) in the UK has risen by over 400 per cent, yet 95 per cent of fines issued to foreign vehicles are never paid. A robust system for sharing traffic violation data and enforcing traffic fines across EU borders doesn't yet exist. Even excluding Congestion Charge losses, these uncollected fines amount to over £1m per month in London alone," TfL noted in February.

I wonder how this is factored into the TfL cost model? Perhaps a disgruntled (and otherwise soon to be out of a job) commercial vehicle owner/driver would be better off taking a ferry across the Channel and buying a vehicle there?

According to TfL, the scheme will operate using number plate reading digital cameras and in-vehicle "tags" to identify vehicles, which in conjunction with the DVLA database will determine the vehicle's emissions standard, and from this decide whether or not a charge is due.

TfL has, however, studiously avoided saying that the equipment necessary to monitor and track commercial vehicles in the LEZ is bar a simple software change, exactly the same equipment that would be needed to track and charge private motorists for congestion or pollution charging as well.

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