Central London’s army of ‘Chelsea Tractor’ drivers are to be punished for their gas-guzzling ways with swingeing emissions-based congestion charges London’s Mayor has announced.

According to Ken Livingstone’s proposals, drivers of vehicles which emit more than 225g of carbon dioxide per kilometer - that’s most 4x4s and luxury saloons - will have to pay a new £25 rate to enter an expanded congestion zone. Livingstone also plans to drop the resident’s discount for polluters who live within the congestion zone.

Meanwhile, cars which emit 120g of carbon dioxide per km or less, and hybrid vehicles such as Livingstone’s very own Toyota Prius, will receive a pat on the bonnet in the form of a charge exemption. The mayor hopes to introduce the new rules in 2009, giving offending drivers just over two years to shop around for a friendlier model.

These laudable proposals have been hailed by environmentalists, and they certainly represent a step in the right direction, but they are unlikely to have much more than a marginal effect on the UK’s emissions targets. Plus, it could be argued that anyone wealthy enough to live in Kensington and drive a “Shogun Warmonger” might not be too worried about having to pay a few more quid in order to lord it over other road users. What we really need is for Livingstone’s war on 4x4s to be rolled out across the country - exempting only those with a legitimate need to drive up mountains and across muddy fields.

In a separate development, likely to make a bigger impact on the issue, European Commission proposals to be published next month could end up forcing car manufacturers to produce smaller, more fuel-efficient models. With many leading automakers failing to fulfil voluntary commitments to reduce emissions, the commission is expected to introduce legislation forcing them to reduce emissions. In order to comply with these tough new targets the industry would have little choice but to reverse the trend towards larger, heavier cars.

Jon Excell

Features Editor

The Engineer