Yesterday, Red Ken announced his plans for greater revenue to his quango TfL under the guise of environmentalism. Livingstone said that he's going to make Central London a low-emmission zone and to do this he's going to start charging the owners of so-called "chelsea tractors", £25 per day to drive in the CC zone.
"'Chelsea tractors', many of which are responsible for some of the highest CO2 emissions of any cars on our roads, have to be dealt with.... I want TfL to look at lower congestion charges for cars responsible for lower than average CO2 emissions, broadly the retention of the current rate of £8 for most cars, and much steeper charges of perhaps £25 for the really environmentally damaging cars such as the so-called 'Chelsea tractors'."
There are a number of serious, and very fundamental problems with this plan. First up there's the issue of using generalised language to stigmatise a particular group. The so-called "chelsea tractor" is a catch-all phrase for anything remotely 4x4. The fact that so many of these vehicles don't actually fall into the range of emmissions that would result in a higher charge is ignored. Ordinary families who just happen to have a big, 4x4 looking car are thus being viewed as some sort of environmental pariah, when they're not.
The second problem is the claim that these car are the highest polluters. They're no more polluting however than many stupidly fast sports cars which also drive around places like Chelsea and the rest of the CC zone every day. However, apparently you're not an evil environment killer if you drive one of them because it doesn't look big and the chattering classes don't talk about you at the dinner parties they drove to in their hiugh emmission TVRs, Boxtsers, Subaru Imprezas, etc etc.
The third problem is more about where this is heading. Ken Livingstone claims that his target is to make central London (ergo the CC zone) a low emmission zone. This may sound laudable, however what happens to the congestion charge then? If everyone is driving low emmission exempted cars then CC revenue will plummet. He'll have two choices, either, make all those cars that were exempt, not exempt (likely, he's threatening it with LPG cars already). Or, move the charge further out and start charging families £25 a day to drive around the suburbs of greater London. Even if those people used their cars only two days a week, that would amount to an extra £2600 a year in Livingstone's coffers at City Hall.
There is also one final fourth problem. When the charge was brought it was apparently about cutting congestion. However, putting aside the independent research by the RAC that shows congestion levels in the zone have now reached the same as they were prior to the charge's introduction. It's now being argued the charge is tool in the fight to cut CO2 emmissions.
The number of times that Ken Livingstone has now lied about the Congestion Charge is, quite frankly, becoming a joke. He promised not to put it up before his election, then put it up straight after. He said he wouldn't do it again till 2010, it's just gone up again. He's trying to make out he's saving you money if you pay on the day rather than the next when in fact you're not, and now he's planning further increases on the grounds of a cars "look". More worryingly is that that the logical ends of his policy of low emmission zones is that the charge will have to move outward further and further as revenue dries up in the centre.
We have to get this man out of city hall.