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Changes to congestion charge discounts criticised

Motoring group says “green goalposts have moved”, but air quality campaigners are calling for even more stringent emissions criteria for vehicles to be introduced

Proposals to tighten vehicle emissions criteria has prompted concerns from motoring groups that many drivers of diesel and other low carbon-emissions vehicles will be forced to pay the full congestion charge in future.

However, air quality campaigners have also said the proposals do not go far enough, with calls for them to be “scrapped” in favour of stricter criteria that would help reduce air pollution in the capital.

Drivers of diesel vehicles may no longer be exempt from the congestion charge under TfL proposals

Drivers of diesel vehicles may no longer be exempt from the congestion charge under TfL proposals

TfL is proposing that a new Ultra Low Emission Discount be introduced from July 2013, which would place stricter carbon dioxide emissions criteria on hybrid and diesel cars in order to be eligible for a congestion charge discount (see airqualitynews.com story).

According to TfL, tightening the criteria in the current Greener Vehicle Discount (GVD) will help to reduce congestion as the number of eligible vehicles is increasing and adding to air pollution emissions and traffic levels.

However, concerns have been raised that this could penalise many who have purchased diesel and other low-emission vehicles in order to qualify for congestion charge discounts as they will no longer be eligible.

A spokesman for motoring association the AA said: “The congestion charge has done well to encourage the take up of more greener vehicles in the capital and this is something that we need to continue encouraging.”

“However, the ‘green goalposts’ have moved and we feel sorry for those drivers that have invested in low-emission hybrid and diesel vehicles over the last few years, as they may well lose their discount on the congestion charge.”

‘Backward steps’

However, Clean Air in London campaigner Simon Birkett was critical of both the current and proposed congestion charge discount schemes, calling for them to be “scrapped” in favour of more stringent limits on a number of pollutants rather than just carbon dioxide.

He said that the GVD “typifies the Mayor’s failure to understand climate change and so called ‘green’ and air pollution issues,” adding that the Mayor “clearly does not understand” that vehicles emitted a range of pollutants as well as carbon dioxide, such as particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

Mr Birkett also said that with the number of diesel cars eligible for discount tripling since the GVD was introduced in January 2011, he was “doubtful” that any overall reduction in carbon dioxide emissions had been achieved as the “extra vehicles have worsened congestion”.

He said that the proposed congestion charge discount changes risked “repeating the Mayor’s backward steps of the past” by setting a single limit on carbon dioxide and neglecting to address emissions of other air pollutants.

He continued: “Instead of favouring carcinogenic diesel technology, the Mayor should: scrap the existing GVD by no later than 31 March 2014; and set strict and explicit new limits for greenhouse gas AND air pollution emissions at the earliest administratively practicable date (July 1 2013).”

He added that by 31 December 2015 “the only new vehicles qualifying for the GVD should be zero emission at point of use.”

Friends of the Earth campaigner Jenny Bates also highlighted the social and public health impacts of traffic pollution and emphasised the importance of meeting EU ambient air quality standards.

She said: “We have got to do whatever is necessary reduce traffic and pollution levels in London in order to make sure we meet EU air quality limits within the required date in 2015. If it requires further strengthening of the criteria for the congestion charge in order to protect people’s health, then that is action we have to take.”

TfL’s consultation on the proposals ends on February 8 2013. More information on the consultation and proposals is available on the TfL website.

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