Congestion charge to hit classic cars

After Paris banned older cars from the city on July 1, London plans to exclude them by expanding new charging zones. Is this a ban in all but name?

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced a range of plans intended to reduce the capital’s air pollution. Under these proposals, from the beginning of next year any car registered before January 2006 will have to pay an extra £10 to enter the London Congestion Charging Zone – already £11.50. And from 2020, charges will rise as a new Ultra Low Emissions Zone expands to the North and South Circular for cars, vans and motorcycles, and for the whole of London for buses, coaches and lorries.

While an outright ban on older cars is not currently part of the proposal, it will have the same effect for London residents who will be faced with paying £21.50 every time they get behind the wheel.

Some aspects of the London 2020 scheme are more draconian than the system in France’s capital. Unlike Paris, there is to be no let-off at weekends, as the scheme is to apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And while Paris has recognised that classic cars will make up a tiny proportion of the city traffic and exempted those over 30 years old, London includes no such plans for exempting historic vehicles.

This raises obvious problems for London-based classic car events like the Chelsea Cruise, the Regent Street Motor Show, the Excel Classic Car Show and anything based at the Ace Cafe. Will every participant in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run really be required to pay the ULEZ charge and the Congestion Charge for an event beginning at dawn on a Sunday in November?

Surprisingly recent cars will be affected. The London ULEZ will impose its charge on any petrol car failing to meet the Euro 4 standard; that’s the January 2006 cut-off mentioned above. For diesels, the cut off will be Euro 6 – that’s effectively September 1, 2015.

A ban on older cars was first proposed under the previous Mayor, Boris Johnson, in 2014. It drew organised protest and petitions from the historic car lobby. Clean air groups argue that efforts should be directed to reducing emissions of particulates and oxides of nitrogen from diesel engines, with little emphasis on any problem with the quantity of older petrol-engined cars. In fact, the Institute for Public Policy Research thinks only a total diesel ban will get the job done:

“This is a public health crisis and it should be ignored no longer,” said Harry Quilter-Pinner, a researcher at the IPPR. “Only bold action will make the capital’s air safe to breathe again. Analysis suggests Khan will ultimately need to phase out diesel cars and buses in order to reach legal compliance (with clean air standards).”

While the Euro 6 standard for private motorists should guarantee a reduction in diesel particulates (as long as manufacturers don’t fiddle the figures!), the most numerous diesel cars in London – taxis – are to be exempt from the charge.

The previous Mayor’s original proposals stated that taxis bought new from 2018 must be hybrids or Euro 6-compliant diesels, and then from 2020 all new taxis must be capable of running emissions-free. Nonetheless, diesel cabs will theoretically carry on running until 2032, charge-free, under the current 15-year life limit for London’s cabs. It’s not clear whether Sadiq Khan’s proposals duplicate these policies.

London’s buses, also a major contributor to diesel particulate pollution, will likewise be exempt but a commitment has been made to buy only hybrid or zero-emission double-deckers from 2018. But with an estimated 7000 of the 8600 buses in TfL’s fleet still running on diesel alone, it’s obvious a great many will still be running long after pre-2005 cars are charged to venture inside the city.

Classic American editor Ben Klemenzson hopes a sensible exemption can be established.

“Clean air in London is an important health issue, but it seems unfair that classic car owners should be penalised when their contribution to the problem is negligible. If you live inside the North or South Circular and own an old American car – or even if you just want to attend a central London meet on a summer evening – it looks like you’ll be charged every time. I believe all historic vehicles should be exempt from the charge, especially after 6pm and at weekends.”

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