London Lowers CO2 Limit For Free Entry: Only Plug-Ins Exempt

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Car entering London's Congestion Charge zone [Image: Flickr user jovike]

Car entering London's Congestion Charge zone [Image: Flickr user jovike]

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For several years, England's capital city has charged a fee for vehicles entering a center zone, under the guise of "congestion charging".

In reality, it's a tax based on CO2 emissions, all vehicles emitting under 100 grams per kilometer of carbon dioxide allowed free passage into the center. Until now.

From July 1, the congestion charge limit reduces to 75 g/km of CO2--meaning thousands of drivers will have to pay the over-$15 daily fee to enter the city.

Transport for London (TfL), which governs the city's transportation systems, is allowing a three year exemption window for sub-100g/km cars bought before the rules come into force, but any car bought after then will be subject to the same charge as any other vehicle.

In effect, only plug-in vehicles will be exempt.

The lowest-CO2 non-plug-in vehicle currently on sale in the UK is the Toyota Yaris Hybrid, with a minimum output of 79 g/km. Toyota had originally said the car's low CO2 output should pre-empt any such limitation, but the car misses out by a mere 4 g/km.

On the other hand, Toyota's 49 g/km Plug-In Prius, cars like the 27 g/km Chevrolet Volt and its Vauxhall Ampera cousin, as well as any full battery-electric vehicle, will still enjoy exemption from the charge.

Dissuading dirty diesels

TfL's main impetus for reducing the limit was to stem the increase in diesel vehicles getting into London for free.

While diesel vehicles are economical enough to produce low CO2, and also produce low hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, European emissions limits aren't nearly as strict on their particulate matter or nitrogen oxide emissions.

The former is responsible for all manner of respiratory diseases, the latter a leading cause of smog. With London's air some of the dirtiest in Europe, the incentive to reduce these pollutants is high.

Several European cities run similar schemes to London, with strict emissions regulations and tax breaks based on CO2 output.

The schemes make sense from an environmental perspective, but the worry for London is that with plug-ins still out of reach of most buyers, the sole incentive for buying clean hybrid vehicles and other low emission choices has been taken away.

Now, save for an arbitrary few miles per gallon difference in daily driving, there's little difference for a driver choosing between a 76 g/km car and a 126 g/km car. Previously they might have chosen the cleaner vehicle of the two for the congestion charge savings, but now they'd have to spend thousands extra on a plug-in to see the financial benefits.

Taxis, buses get a free pass

The other issue is London's public transport systems. While effective, many taxis and buses lag well behind on emissions, failing to meet regulations almost ten years out of date. A London taxi meeting Euro 3 standards can produce ten times the particulate matter of a modern Euro 5 diesel.

We welcome schemes to encourage drivers into greener vehicles, but for London, it may be some time before the new lower limit actually realizes any environmental benefits.

Of course, there's an alternative scenario--with plug-ins out of reach and regular hybrids costing so much more for London drivers to run, people may avoid using cars at all...


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Comments (11)
  1. Plug-ins aren't out of reach if the alternative is paying the £10 per day congestion charge. In the fact the savings from using electricity instead of petrol will pay for the car all on their own in 8-10 years (depending on miles driven), add in the congestion charge and its a free car in half the time.

  2. I can appreciate that line of thinking James, but it depends what segment of the market you're looking at. It's possible to get exempt cars from around the £8,000 mark.

    When the cheapest electric car is the Renault Zoe (with £70/mth battery rental) at ~£13,000, it would take quite some time before the payoff became worth it for cost-conscious consumers. Not least because battery rental really scuppers the affordability of the most affordable EVs.

  3. I've always been curious: how exactly does this work? Do the cars have a wireless scanning device, or decal of some sort? How is it enforced?

  4. I am assuming it is like the EZpass thing here in the US where you drive under a scanner and it pulls up your information. This is mostly used for toll roads and trucking-related things.

  5. Automatic Number Plate Readers via over head cameras. Pay on the day or get an £80 fine through the post (lots of ways to pay - see ) Of course, if you don't want to pay then don't register your car. As it stands, the law in the UK concerning vehicle registration is a total farce as the onus (and only legal requirement) for registering used vehicles lies with the seller not the buyer.

  6. The method is correct Martin but on July 1 when the regulation changes that fine will be £130! It's £120 at the moment actually - I suspect that £80 is a few years old.

  7. great HALF STEPPING here London. you got the right idea so why stop there?

    A Volt or Prius can only beat the emission standards if they have a charge. I say unless they can prove they plan to EV it, they should be charged along with the other "smoking guns" which btw appear to be almost as deadly as the real things...

  8. Stepping any further would ruin the real motive for these charges David - make virtually everything pay the charge and you may dissuade people from driving at all, which would then lose the city money!

    I suspect it's been done just nicely so that people grin and bear it, and continue to fork out £10 per car, per day for London's piggy bank...

  9. What if you are already in the charge zone? Do people even live in the charge zone?

  10. They do indeed Jesse. Those living in the zone or right on the limit get a 90% residents discount.

    It's probably better than that for many, too. Those within the zone are even better placed to make use of public transport, and you don't get charged if you're not actually driving so a parked-up car won't incur the daily charge even within the zone.

  11. I was in London in May 2013 and between the traffic lights and traffic and parking issues I could not understand anyone wishing to drive into central London.

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