Friday, June 03, 2011

Low Emission Zone will hit motorists hard

"I don't believe it!" as Victor Meldrew might say. This will be the reaction of many vehicle owners in London as they receive letters from Transport for London. For anyone owning larger van, minibuses and 4x4 vehicles, the letter will come as a sledgehammer blow since it effectively forces owners to spend thousands of pounds before new policies take effect in January 2012.

It shouldn't be a surprise to any motorist driving in Britain that they are not the friend of the government and environmentalist. Over the past few years schemes have been introduced on the premise of reducing congestion and pollution. But while some policies have certainly improved traffic conditions and reduced pollution, other schemes have been highly criticized for being little more than a tax on the ever suffering motorist. The soon to be expanded Low Emission Zone is likely to hit many motorists who live in London extremely hard.

Bus lanes & speed restrictions

Bus lanes have been introduced across many cities in Britain. And they have certainly improved the flow of public transport, even if lines of regular motorists sit in even longer lines of stationary traffic. Reduction of speed limits on some A roads and motorways has arguably helped traffic flow during peak hours, even if a 50 mph limit seems rather pointless as darkness falls and the number of cars on the road dwindles. There are variable speed limits applied top some sections of motorway which is meant to solve this issue however.

Breaking these speed limits will often result in a hefty fine, brought about by snapping offending motorists with cameras. These were once just static cameras. The well known GATSO is posted all over Britain ready to flash the speeding car passing its sights. But locals soon avoided this 'hazard' and would slow down on approach, only to accelerate away soon after. Many might also avoid fines simply because the cameras ran out of film. With the introduction of digital cameras and SPECS, an average speed camera system, there is little escape. Motorists are now kept in line and travel at the posted limit.

Congestion Charge

Under the banner of environmentalism several schemes have been introduced in large cities. The Congestion Charge in London was said not only to reduce traffic but also pollution. In many ways it has little reduced either. Those who need to travel into the city have little choice than to find the daily fee which has increased to £10 per day. For businesses, the costs are merely passed on to consumers. Firms may pay the extra fees to their employees, just as parking might also be covered. Buses and taxis would continue to travel the streets. The situation remained the same, though local government was making a tidy profit from the influx of daily commuters. But the pushing of the environmental cause has not stopped with the Congestion Zone. 

Low Emission Zone

In 2008 the Greater London Authority, under the leadership of Ken Livingstone, introduced the Low Emission Zone. Signs began to appear at the edges of London's boroughs near to the borders with the home counties. For most motorists they were just a meaningless addition to the plethora of street signs that clutter Britain's roads.

The Low Emission Zone scheme was intended to removed highly polluting vehicles from within London. Initially it only affected bigger commercial vehicles, lorries and large vans for example. But as the 2012 Olympics approaches rules are tightening and more vehicles are being included in the list.

While there was some opposition during the consultative phase, it is only now that loud voices of protest are being raised. The scheme was opposed during the consultation phase by a range of stake holders. The Freight Transport Association proposed an alternative scheme, reliant on a replacement cycle of vehicles, with lorries over 8 years old being liable, with higher years for other vehicles. They also stated that the standards were different than the forthcoming Euro 5 requirements as well suggesting the scheme did not do anything to help reduce CO2 emissions. The Road Haulage Association opposed the scheme, stating the costs to hauliers and benefits to the environment did not justify its introduction.

Schools and St. John Ambulance expressed concern about the additional costs that the scheme would bring them, particularly in light of the restricted budgets they operate under. There were some who welcomed the proposals, amongst them the British Lung Foundation and the British Heart Foundation who saw the scheme as a way of reducing pollution.

Death sentence for some

In the past few weeks many motorists have received letters which for many is a death sentence to their life on the road. Transport for London [TfL] has sent details of how the LEZ will be expanded to include motorhomes, 4 wheel-drive vehicles and transit vans. Those with older diesel vehicles will be forced to modify their vehicle, buy a newer vehicle or face fines of £100 per day.

Many motorists are understandably irate. The cost of modification would in many cases exceed the value of the vehicle, yet replacement would not be convenient or appropriate. To replace an old Landrover or Daihatsu Fourtrak with newer equivalent may run into thousands of pounds.

Despite their age such vehicles can often run for many years, so to scrap them is far from green. A Daihatsu Foutrak bought second-hand in 2003 for £4,000 is worth very little now, yet even with 120,000 miles on the clock it could easily run another 80,000!

Of course there have been repairs and replacements. Springs have been changed, after much off-road wear and tear, and there has been some body welding. It's never failed an MoT and starts first time, even after being jacked-up and moth-balled while working abroad for 12 months.

As any owner would tell you, this vehicle could "tow a house and not notice", actually a bit of an exaggeration, but an indication of its prowess in the 4x4 market. If running well it is hardly a vehicle one would wish to dispose of. But if you own this or any number of similar vehicles, and you live in one of London's boroughs, there is a difficult choice ahead.

No cheap option

One could move beyond London's boundaries, and make the choice of never entering the metropolis again. That for many would be a little drastic however. There is the option of finding a friend who is willing to allow it to be parked outside their address, given they live outside the LEZ. But failing that, there is only the choice of selling up and buying a replacement or modifying your old vehicle.

All options are far from cheap. Next year's tax, insurance, MoT and sundry motoring costs [excluding fuel] might have been around £700 to £1,000. The introduction of this new policy may add between two and six thousand pounds to this. While there are a few complaints on web forums, particularly from Landrover owners living just within the borders, there has yet to be any major backlash concerning the new rules.

There are no other LEZs in the UK, but they are common elsewhere with around 50 in the rest of Europe. This seems to be a scheme which is likely to widen as environmental causes are used to squeeze the motorists' wallet. [TfL / Low Emission Zone map - PDF / Low Emission Zones in Europe]

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