Consultation starts on change of London Congestion Charge Zone rules, proposing no charge for sub-120g/km CO2 cars

Congestion Charge London

In a long-predicted move, London Mayor Ken Livingstone has announced that Transport for London will start a consultation this Friday on a scheme to allow cars emitting less than 120g/km CO2 to drive free of charge in the central London Congestion Charging Zone, and to charge high emission cars up to £25. The zone covers parts of Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea.

The new charges would be as follows:

• Low-CO2 emitting cars – including petrol and diesel models – 100 per cent discount (£0). Includes cars in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) Bands A and B (less than 120g CO2 per km) – but they also need to meet Euro 4 air quality standard.

• The majority of cars – VED Bands C, D, E and those in F with emissions up to 225g CO2 per km – will continue to pay exactly the same daily charge as at present – £8.

• The highest CO2 emitting cars – VED Band G and equivalent vehicles (above 225g CO2 per km), as well as those registered pre-March 2001 with engines larger than 3,000 cc, will pay £25 a day and lose their entitlement to the residents’ discount.

The current scheme is based on offering discounts to cars with clean technologies, whereas the proposed new system will link the charges to CO2 emissions. That means that owners of some early versions of low-CO2 hybrids may also start paying £8 a day. That’s because only cars with the latest Euro 4-compliant engines will qualify under new exemption criteria (Euro 4 engine standards are now mandatory for cars and Euro 5 commercial vehicles are now coming to market. These standards regulate levels of air quality emissions like NOx and diesel particulates (PM10). CO2 emissions are not currently regulated).

Manufacturers such as Saab, Ford and Volvo who are investing in high blend bio-ethanol (E85) cars will be disappointed that TfL is not considering them for congestion charge exemptions. Tailpipe CO2 emissions are similar to petrol equivalents, however, recent studies at Imperial College demonstrate significant well-to-wheel CO2 benefits of E85 compliant cars – 41 per cent in the case of a Ford Focus FFV. This results in the 169g CO2/km figure dropping to 99.6g when the CO2 absorption by the crops is factored in.

Interestingly, this news comes hot on the heels of the announcement that London’s taxis are to run on diesel containing 30% biodiesel. The TX4 cab emits 226 grams per km of CO2 – therefore theoretically putting it in the high-emitting £25 a day category (Radio Taxis says it emits almost 24,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year in total). So the biodiesel announcement looks like it was carefully managed before the release of this news, to show that, while some motorists with large people carriers may be hard hit with the new Congestion Charges, something is being done to address the huge problem of CO2 emissions of taxis. A 30% biodiesel mix isn’t going to make a huge difference to the eco-friendliness of London’s taxis, and then there’s the issues of particulates from the diesel taxi engines, and from buses that have such a negative impact on local air quality in London.

Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone says he will keep an open mind on the proposals until he has considered the responses to the consultation. “Londoners are becoming increasingly aware of the need to tackle climate change and this summer’s floods were a reminder of the urgency with which we need to reduce CO2 emissions. The highest CO2 emitting cars – like some of the so-called Chelsea tractors, high powered sports cars and luxury executive cars – can produce twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as the kind of car driven by the average Londoner. By proposing these changes to the congestion charging scheme we are encouraging people to take into account the impact on the environment of their choice of car.

“We are already cleaning up London’s fleet of public vehicles through measures like the introduction of hybrid buses. These new proposals will tackle emissions from private vehicles, and ensure that London is leading the way in the fight against catastrophic climate change.”

The consultation will start on 10 August and end on 19 October.

If this new scheme is approved, as is widely predicted, expect to see this encouraging the development of a whole new range of sub-120g/km cars, and this will significantly reduce the incentive to drive electric cars in London.

See sub-120g/km cars in our Top 10 Green Cars section or our Green-Car-Guide e-Book