Porsches, the London congestion zone, fairness and justice

Porsche challenges Ken Livingstone over £25 congestion charge

Porsche are a very successful company that make expensive high performance cars. Its last published figures show that it sold 7.4 billion euro worth of new cars, (over 97,000 of them) made up of 39,000 911s, 26,000 Boxters and 33,000 Cayennes. It employs over 11,500 people and makes excellent profits. 

Its well designed cars high on performance and are also high on petrol consumption and high on carbon emissions. They are expensive, with a Cayenne costing £50,000 and a 911 as much as £80,000, if you buy it with all the bells and whistles. These are very expensive toys, because, after all, the whole of the UK has a maximum speed limit of 70 miles an hour so the need for a car that travels in excess of 130 miles an hour is somewhat limited. 

London (mostly having a speed limit of 30 miles an hour or 20 miles an hour) seems to be full of Porsches. It also has a congestion charging zone, invented by Mr Ken Livingstone. If you want to drive your car in the charging zone it costs you £8 per day, unless you reside within the zone (when you get a discount) or unless you are Member of Parliament where your very limited salary and low expenses (!) means that you can drive in the congestion zone for free no matter what you drive. It’s also free if you drive an electric or hydrogen car and for some types of hybrid cars. 

Livingstone is up for election on 1st May. I do not know whether he will win or not.

The congestion zone has really been the most prominent of his Mayoral policies. Most people, I think, would like the idea if it worked but think it doesn’t really work. It certainly has encouraged the use of the G-Wiz electric cars. These are small but as I mentioned probably simply do not much more than move the pollution from the exhaust to the power station. Electric cars might well end up as overnight energy stores, so perhaps Mr Livingstone’s initiative will overall prove very positive, although not in the way he intended.

Having said that, London’s streets are narrow (but Mr Livingstone introduced the wretched bendy buses) and small cars with small engines make sense. From October, provided he is re-elected, Livingstone (supported in this respect by the Green Party) proposes to change the congestion zone charges in a way that will cost the owners of luxury large engine cars like Porsches a good deal more.

Cars that have engines over 3000 cc or cars that emit more than 225grams per kilometre will have to pay £25 a day, instead of £8 a day. Cars that emit less than 120 grams per kilometre will be exempt. I welcome this. It is adopts one of the four energy principles that I set out in the Energy Age – that the polluter pays.

No one needs to drive a Porsche in London, although if you have a new one and that is your only car, you will find it more expensive than before.  If you work in London and drive your £80,000 Porsche 911 in the zone on 200 days a year the congestion charge will cost you £5,000 a year instead of £1,600, adding £3400 to your motoring costs each year, on top of what must be very large fuel bills.

Porsche thinks that this is disproportionate and unfair and unjust and that the charge will not decrease emissions in central London. Transport for London thinks that 22,000 fewer cars will come into London as a result although I regard their figures as very much on the optimistic side. When the congestion zone was introduced many cars did stop coming but they seem to have all got used to paying now. Transport for London claims that there has been a drop of 70,000 cars a day.

In fact, Porsche feels so strongly about their car users paying £25 a day instead of £8 a day that they are thinking of mounting a legal challenge by applying for a judicial review. In effect Porsche would be asking the court to find, on some technical grounds, that Mr Livingstone should not impose the higher charge on the more polluting vehicles.

Mr Livingstone argues in effect that no one has the right to pollute without paying for it. Bigger car engines cause more pollution and users of should pay more. We have no right to inflict harm on others. Mr Livingstone lost a judicial review years ago when as leader of the Greater London Council the London Borough of Bromley persuaded the House of Lords that a cheap subsidised fares policy (“Fares Fare”) was illegal.

The courts have therefore overturned one policy that an electorate had mandated and there is no guarantee that even Mr Mr Livingstone wins the lection that the courts will not overturn this policy. Having said that I think that it is unlikely that Porsche will suceed in a judicial review – I cannot see much value in their case, but I could be wrong.

Dr Wiederking, who runs Porsche and earns some £50 million a year out of it, sees things differently. He thinks that the reputation of London as a leading financial centre will be adversely affected if the charge is imposed. He sees it almost akin to a jealousy tax, where the most successful are punished.

I think Dr Wiederkin is wrong. I think that the higher congestion charge is fair and just. A highly paid executive in London who spends £80,000 on a high performance car which emits four times more carbon dioxide and four times more pollution than a smaller car can afford the extra £3,400 a year in congestion charge. If the Porsche owner cannot afford the extra he or she can find another smaller car.

If this affects Porsche sales I cannot say, from an environmental perspective, that this will be a bad thing. If it persuades Porsche to develop cars with smaller engines this will be a good thing.

Of course, with the congestion charge I have a suspicion that this might be more motivated by tax raising rather than by environmental concerns. It would allay my suspicions if the additional revenue generated was hypothecated entirely to reducing London transport fares. Even Porsche drivers can buy a small G-Wiz (I calculate a three year pay back) for their trips inside the congestion zone. No doubt some of them already have.  

3 Responses

  1. Vanity comes at a price. Lowering carbon emissions is more important than posing in the congestion zone.

  2. I agree, emeraldme.

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