Make a difference on 4x4s

Sian calls on opponents of big polluting cars to stand up and be counted to make sure owners get hit

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This time last year, we were having a little party at Alliance Against Urban 4x4s HQ after Ken Livingstone announced plans to charge 4x4s (and other gas-guzzlers) a £25 congestion charge just a few weeks after we delivered our petition calling for almost exactly that. Now the hard work really begins as the plan is going out for public consultation this week.

In case you missed them, the proposals aim to introduce a new daily charge of £25 for cars in vehicle excise duty band G, covering cars that emit more than 225 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. There are also improved discounts for cleaner cars, with all vehicles in bands A and B (emitting less than 120 g/km of carbon dioxide) becoming totally exempt from the charge.

I don’t think anyone can argue that they need a 4x4 or 200 mph sports car in the centre of London and, in the absence of real action from central government, taking the lead and promoting cleaner cars on our own initiative is completely appropriate. The new rate will include all but a handful of 4x4s and every Bentley and Ferrari in town and will even remove their 90% resident’s discount, meaning owners of pointless status symbols will each pay a whopping £6,500 more per year just to have their machines parked in the zone.

I’m being harsh, but it’s an important issue. These cars aren’t harmless; the quantity of carbon dioxide emitted from even the least wasteful band G car is immense. If you have such a car, think about this: 225 g/km is the weight of a brick – of gas! – coming out of your exhaust pipe every five and half miles.

Importantly, almost every class of vehicle has models that aren’t in band G, so this is not an issue of freedom of choice. Some may find it painful to change their model of car, but people who genuinely need a 4x4 can seek out the few models that fall into band F, avoid the higher charge and do their bit to reduce climate change at the same time.

It’s all incredibly sensible, and we are confident the public consultation will show that the vast majority of Londoners want the charge to go ahead. With Greenpeace, the Alliance polled 5,000 people on the streets of London in 2005 using clipboards with the neutral phrase ‘transport survey’ written on the back. We found 85% support for a proposal to charge 4x4s and other gas-guzzlers a higher congestion charge, and many other polls have backed up this finding – with results ranging from 70-90% in favour.

The one exception to this rule was an online poll run by BBC Radio, trailing my appearance on a phone-in show a while back. This poll was running, as usual, well against 4x4s until about an hour before I was due in the studio. Then, all of a sudden, the voting rate went up from one or two people a minute to about 500 and the figures rapidly switched over. Clearly some clever 4x4-driving tecchy was fiddling the poll! I immediately alerted the programme makers, who didn’t seem very bothered, although I suspect they would be now in the wake of Blue Petergate.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. It’s very simple: if you are a Londoner and, like me, think discouraging big stupid cars from polluting and clogging up our city is a good idea, get responding. You can be sure the ‘idiots’ will be getting their oar in too, so go to the Transport for London website tomorrow and register your support for the plan.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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