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London Congestion Charge becomes CO2 tax

Red Green Ken makes bid for recycled lentil votes

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London mayor Ken Livingstone yesterday announced a comprehensive shift in the capital's "congestion charge" road-pricing policy, reorienting the tolls much more towards green issues and away from actual congestion charging.

The mainstream charge remains the same, with ordinary cars charged £8 for a day's access to the congestion-charging area and residents of the zone offered a discount which can be worth up to 90 per cent.

However, in a headline-grabbing move the mayor announced that powerful cars and certain pickup trucks with high carbon emissions would now be subject to a £25 daily charge - without any residents' discount.

"Nobody needs to damage the environment by driving a gas-guzzling Chelsea tractor in central London," Mr Livingstone said.

In another green-policy shift, it was also announced that the congestion charge exemptions for hybrids (including the Toyota Prius) and gas or liquefied-gas-fuelled cars would close for new registrations as of next October and cease altogether as of 2010.

Giving a clear sign that road congestion was no longer an absolute priority, it was also announced that low-carbon vehicles emitting less than 120 grammes of CO2 are no longer to be charged, which will be a relief for Prius drivers disqualified by the alternate-fuel strikeout. (The Prius emits comfortably less than 120g/km.)

Transport for London estimated that 80 per cent of London vehicles would be unaffected by the changes, staying in the £8 band. TfL's analysis also suggests that 17 per cent of the vehicles currently in use would now be subject to the tripled-and-then-some £25 levy should they remain; the mayor's people believe that two-thirds of these will no longer be driven in the zone. The TfL stats say that only two per cent of current vehicles would qualify for the 100 per cent low-carbon discount.

The moves were widely condemned by the mayor's political opponents. Controversial bicycling MP and media rascal Boris Johnson told the Beeb:

"In effect, the mayor has just given the green light for richer people to buy smaller cars and enter the zone for free while families who struggle with one big car are left feeling the pinch."

Mr Johnson seemed to suggest that well-off Londoners would now equip themselves with fleets of sub-120g/km compact cars such as the Mini Cooper D and take to the road en masse, paying nothing and causing massive traffic jams.

The Lib Dems' Brian Paddick also criticised the plans, saying they were an emissions tax not a congestion charge. However, orthodox-green groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth welcomed the mayor's initiative.

Endorsement from the green hardliners will be good political news for Mr Livingstone, who could gain substantially in this year's mayoral elections by being placed as second choice after Green Party candidate Siân Berry. Under the capital's proportional voting system the lentil vote, while almost certainly insufficient to put Berry herself into the mayor's office, is well worth the mainstream candidates' attention. Berry, as it happens, was a founder member of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s.

The punitive £25 charge applies to pre-2001 cars and long-cab pickups with three-litre engines or bigger, or to modern makes which emit more than 225 g/km of CO2. ®

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