Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Low Emission Zone London or Ken's tax on trucks

It’s election year in London, and Mayor Ken Livingstone is waging war on road transport – again.

Since 4 February he has made ALL of London (yes not just central) a “Low Emission Zone”. What this means is that any lorry over 12 tonnes that enters any part of Greater London under the authority of the Greater London Authority must have an engine rated as being euro 3 or above, otherwise it faces a £200 charge. This tends to mean that lorries registered since October 1991 will be exempt, but those older than that will face the fee. Failure to pay will result in a fine of £1500.

The scheme will cost £10 million to operate, and is costing £50 million to implement (figures quoted from BBC London) but its benefits are likely to be difficult to detect. The scheme will undoubtedly cost millions to businesses, as currently roadworthy lorries will need to be sold, or the fines and fees passed onto customers. Meanwhile, the lorries will likely be relocated to other parts of Britain, producing dirty emissions there! The scheme is to be extended to lorries down to 3.5 tonnes by July 2008, along with buses, coaches, minibuses, vans, motor caravans and ambulances. Cars are specifically not included, curiously.

Of course it is very unclear how Ken intends to deal with foreign lorries, which are difficult to enforce against. Enforcement against foreign lorries depends on the ability to use law enforcement in EU countries for this purpose, which is highly variable. Non-EU countries are typically more difficult.

The ambition is to clean up local air quality in London, which can be appalling, albeit for some reasons Ken is unlikely to concede:

1. The increase in buses in London as subsidies have dramatically increased. Before Ken became Mayor, buses in London did not require net subsidies, now they cost over £1 billion a year in subsidies. Many buses run with few passengers, and with bus fares having been cut significantly, this encourages people to ride buses rather than walk, cycle or ride the tube (which produces no local emissions). There is little evidence that the additional buses produce less emissions than any cars replaced.

2. The appalling lack of good arterial roads away from built up areas. London’s road network is half finished, and may be destined to be so for some time. For example, the M25 is the only proper orbital route. The A206 north circular is partial highway, partial local street, with many residents exposed to noxious emissions because of anti-road building policies. There is no decent south circular route. A handful of large tunnelled highways would reduce this exposure, reduce emissions and congestion.

So we will wait and see what, if any, positive results come from the Low Emission Zone. Meanwhile, this will increase the costs of doing business in London, and I doubt there will be any measurable impact

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