London's Congestion Charge Zone

London's Congestion Charge Zone

London is a pioneer of sorts when it comes to easing congestion zones.  In February of 2003, the capital of England and the United Kingdom introduced the largest "congestion charge" plan in the world, in an effort to get the more harmful polluting vehicles off London roads, and thereby setting a benchmark for other cities to follow.

Congestion Zone Sign

Congestion Zone Sign

The London Mayor at the time (Ken Livingstone) said the changes were a necessary addition to the city's long term health:

"We've all woken up to the fact that in London over 4,000 people die prematurely every year because of the air quality - that's worse than 9/11.  We're not just talking about a few elderly people dying a few months early. On average they're dying 11 years early."

Now, new mayor Boris Johnson is taking it one step further, by reducing the congestion threshold to 75 g/km (grams per kilometer of carbon dioxide), down from 100 g/km, and thereby disqualifiing all diesel vehicles on London roads today..the true aim of the program, but also taking most of the standard hybrids (like the Toyota Prius) down as well.

Even though a Euro 4 diesel car emits approximately 22 times more particulate matter over a equivalent gas car, thanks to some low carbon incentives, diesels in London have climbed from about 10% of the automotive pool to almost 50% in the last 10 years.  This new threshold will effectively end that growth, and at least theoretically, reverse it.

Vauxhall Ampera Would Still Qualify Under New London Standards

Vauxhall Ampera Would Still Qualify Under New London Standards

Now, only plug-in hybrids, range extenders (like the Vauxhall Ampera) and all electric vehicles (like the Renault Zoe) will be getting an easy pass in central London.

However, because of the very fast, and drastic reduction of the threshold, and the fact many of the diesels purchases were made in anticipation of avoiding this charge, vehicles already registered for the Greener Vehicle Discount will be granted a "Sunset Period" of three years, expiring on June 24, 2016.

Non qualifying cars will now face a daily £10 fee if they enter central London's congestion charge zone, or £9 if they have signed up for autopay, between 07:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday.  Also, late payment fines will increase from £120 to £130 on May 20th of this year.

A spokesperson for London's Mayor Johnson commented to BBC News on the changes:

"These changes are in line with the mayor's aim to improve air quality in London by reducing emissions from private vehicles and promoting the further development of low emission vehicles.  We want to encourage the continued development of these technologies, while also protecting the benefits to traffic flow in the centre of London that the charge provides."

New York City had previously attempted a similar scheme for the Manhattan central business distract in 2006, and on Earth Day of the following year (Apr. 22nd 2007), Mayor Bloomberg introduced some long-term sustainability goals through the year 2030; named PlaNYC 2030, but by the following year the proposal had failed to even go to votes at the State Assembly because "the opposition was so overwhelming."

With the abundance of plug-in options now on the road, is it now time to re-visit the long term emission-sustainability goals of the world's more densely populated major cities?