Car ads sell us a particularly seductive modern day fantasy. We are promised open roads cutting through sweeping panoramic landscapes, speed, freedom, and excitement.
But for those of us who find ourselves inching along in snarled up traffic, the lack of speed isn’t the only difference between the dream and the reality of modern day motoring. Road transport accounts for about a fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions – and research shows using greener cars could be the fastest way to slash this. Therefore moves by national and local government to encourage drivers to use smarter cars – such as the Mayor of London’s proposal to increase the congestion charge to £25 for gas-guzzlers - are welcome.
Ken Livingstone’s proposal has infuriated Porsche, which has launched a legal challenge against what it brands a ‘disproportionate’ measure. Of the 53 types of car that Porsche sells in the UK, 51 would pay the higher charge. In a document seen by the Daily Telegraph, the car manufacturer estimates its sales would fall by 11 per cent if the higher charge came in.
The London congestion charge isn’t the only climate-changing initiative that Porsche opposes. Along with the rest of the car industry, Porsche - which boasts of “protecting the environment to the highest degree” - is fighting new targets to reduce pollution from new vehicles by increasing their fuel efficiency. Could the bottom line be concentrating their minds?
Of course, if Ken doesn’t get elected as Mayor of London on 1 May then Porsche’s London legal challenge will vanish into thin air. Both Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick would drop the proposed gas-guzzler charge.
It’s telling, though, that neither of them would abolish the congestion charge in the original central London zone, pledging only to reopen consultation on the more recent extension into west London. Boris’s promise to look at introducing a flexible pricing system to target the worst congestion seems sensible – until you consider that many of the capital’s top congestion hot-spots are actually in outer London.
Brian Paddick’s plan to introduce a London-wide charge for all cars entering London from outside the city are certainly ambitious, but it would need top notch monitoring technology and drastic negotiations with train and bus operators to ensure the infrastructure is in place to shuttle a high volume of incomers into the capital and out again.
The Lib Dem and Tory candidates have also pledged to re-phase traffic lights to get traffic moving faster – a move which neither takes account of those of us trying to cross the road on foot nor tackles the central problem of the sheer volume of traffic on London’s roads.
The congestion charge is not perfect, but it’s a vital tool that, now it is in place, can be fine tuned and perfected in time. And it is crucial in sending the message to the rest of the world that global warming is not something any of us can simply drive away from in a cloud of dust.
Tony Bosworth is the transport campaigner for Friends of the Earth
To find out who you should be voting for on May 1st visit our Fantasy Mayor site.