14 November 2006

Congestion Charge Rant

Those who don't know me may think the following rant is from a car-loving, card-carrying-Conservative. But while I do confess to having a rather nice car, I would like to point out that my travelling around London is done almost exclusively by bicycle with a bit of public transport thrown in (therefore 5.5 years = 26,000 miles). I have never once needed to pay a congestion charge fee (and nor have I ever needed to pay a parking fine in the UK). Furthermore, I think driving into and around Central London needs to be curtailed and I am in favour in principle of schemes which try to ration that space especially for purposes of aiding efficient commerce. Finally, I am of course in favour of finding ways to reduce environmental damage.

Last year, I spent many (angry) hours over my keyboard writing to my MP and local councillors about the scheme to extend the zone westwards to include Kensington and Chelsea. Not that I am averse to this in principle, but it's implementation is in my opinion, brain-damaged. You may criticise my views as nimbyist, but I reassert my GENERAL support for such a scheme. My particular beef concerns the ability of vehicles to use the Embankment on the river to travel the East-West direction outside of the zone. Apart from obvious bottlenecks that will be made worse, I have observed that for a resident of Battersea, they can make a journey out to, say, Heathrow, without entering the congestion charge zone, as indeed can most residents of South London and out to Kent. But the Battersea resident returning home will be signposted through about 200 metres of congestion charge zone in order to access either of the bridges into the area. A right turn is not permitted. I have been told that such a driver should make a detour of approximately 3 miles to enter the area turning right over Chelsea Bridge (which will be even more congested). So much for congestion charging being an environmental measure when a detour of 3 miles is required (or payment of £8 and see next paragraph). The driver going further to more eastward parts of South London however, would not have to make such a turn and therefore pay no penalty. Therefore the scheme is unreasonably discriminatory towards Battersea residents. The obvious solution was to allow a right turn on Battersea Bridge. An alternative would have been to eliminate the final southwestern block of about 200m by 100m from the charging scheme. Neither were done despite "extensive consultation". White van man will find a way of course to turn right, and over time even law-abiding citizens will do the obvious thing and make a u-turn on the main embankment past the first bridge so they can legally turn left over the bridge. Not a particularly safe thing to do, but better than 3 miles+20 minutes, or £8.

But today, what has got me more incensed is this news from the department of Red Ken. By 2009 the congestion charge for Category G vehicles will be increased by a factor of 3x such that it costs £25 to enter the zone no matter how far you drive or drive in it. A Category G vehicle includes many of the SUV, 4x4 type of vehicle as well as many people carriers. Of course, many sports cars and higher performance vehicles also come into this category. Strangely it would not affect me because (even if I did use my car) my vehicle is older than the cutoff date (another weakness with the scheme in principle). Now, I believe London would be better for less 4x4's and people carriers. But I believe London would be better off with less cars in general (at least moving ones). Sure polluters need to pay, but to have a scheme which is so black and white as to penalise a car emitting a theoretical 224g/km £8 when penalising a car emitting a theoretical 225g/km £25 is plain ridiculous. It is no longer a tax on congestion or an environmental tax, but the worst sort of tax - a tax borne out of chip-on-the-shoulder left-leaning cheap politics. You're better off having an £8 car and driving it like mad than you are having a £25 car and driving it carefully. Other bad behaviours are encouraged - drive as much in the congestion charge zone as you like for instance. (Aside: Why should taxis and users of taxis make no contribution towards congestion charge for instance? Answer = taxi drivers lobby pressurising Ken)

It is quite obvious what the right thing to do. For the environment it is to tax consumption - therefore the price of fuel. This penalises bad drivers, those who maintain their car badly as well as bigger/heavier/less fuel-efficient vehicles. It also encourages good behaviour. For congestion, the logical response is to penalise movement - especially movement at bad times of the day. By all means make that cost higher the larger/heavier the vehicle (we all know people carriers and large 4x4s are less efficient at navigating narrow roads and junctions and therefore make congestion worse) and by all means have an environmental factor applied. But to make it so ludicrously out of proportion does not fix the problem. A 224g/km driving 5 miles in the zone is far more polluting and congestion-generating than a 225g/km car driving just 300m. Attack the problem head-on if you want to change the behaviour!

It will neither make London a cleaner or less congested City to live in, and nor will it help the environment (note significant increase in new cars bought to squeeze under congestion charge limit will benefit the German economy and damage the German environment where they are primarily built!).

It is Ken at his worst and most vindictive.

[/End rant]

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well wisher said...

"the worst sort of tax - a tax borne out of chip-on-the-shoulder left-leaning cheap politics"

Sounds like the very best sort of tax to me, wish we had a lot more of these!

Ian Hobson said...

Dear well wisher
see, I publish all polite comments.

There's still a lot of you around, aren't there? Those who think that squeezing the pips out of people is a good thing. How many times does it have to be proven, that those people are mobile and live in a global economy? When you tax unreasonably you cause people to exercise their mobility, and you also send it to the black economy (see Italy for example). While amounts earned in the City and in certain professions are indeed obscene, taxing them until they leave or it goes underground serves nobody's interests well (except perhaps those of tax havens and less penalistic regimes). Whether you like it or not, your health service and social security system as well as your chances of getting a decent pension depend on the country's success in attracting and retaining wealthy high earning people.

Furthermore, you have confirmed my point about the true nature of this tax. It is neither about congestion nor the environment.