As an object lesson in how the process of regulation is hijacked by rich and powerful interests, today’s introduction of a £10 Toxic – or ‘T’ – Charge on cars over 11 years old entering Central London during peak hours could hardly be bettered. Almost everyone is in favour of clean air, but the effect of this charge will be to tax the poor and excuse the wealthy while adding to the revenues of car manufacturers who have shown contempt for emissions laws.
The charge is to be levied only on cars which fail to meet the Euro 4 regulations on car emissions – which effectively means any car manufactured before 2006, when the regulations were introduced. If newer cars really did emit fewer emissions the concept would be reasonable enough. Yet over the past couple of years it has become clear that new diesel vehicles, when driven on the road in real life, are emitting many more times the levels of pollutants – especially nitrogen oxides -- which they emit when tested in workshop conditions. This does not just apply to cars produced by Volkswagen, which has admitted to cheating on the tests by developing software which detects when a car is in test mode and adjusts performance accordingly. Many other diesel cars have been found to demonstrate a similar ability to run clean when they are being tested, only to spew out far more noxious gases when driven on the road.
Why, then, has the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, pushed ahead with a charging scheme which is based purely on a car’s age, not on how much pollution it is actually producing? His plan is remarkably similar to one in France, which similarly has effectively prohibited cars manufactured before 2001 from specified areas in Paris, Lyon and Grenoble. It cannot be an accident that age-defined regulations are exactly what suits the car industry, because they encourage motorists to get rid of their old vehicles and buy new ones. The T Charge has the same effect as the scrappage scheme introduced in the 2010, where the government funded discounts on new cars to owners of old cars who were prepared to have their vehicles scrapped. Just like the T-charge, that was sold to the public as a pollution-reducing measure when it was really nothing more than a blatant bung to the car industry.
If Sadiq Khan was serious about Londoners’ lungs, his charge would apply to all vehicles which have been found to emit elevated levels of pollution. He would also be doing much more to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists, closing off narrow ‘rat-runs’ and getting rid of stinking buses much faster than he is doing. Instead, he has come up with something that will have the board of Volkswagen rubbing their hands with glee.