August 12, 2007 in Nation/World

London mayor seeks $50-a-day SUV tax

Tom Hundley Chicago Tribune
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

LONDON – Mayor Ken Livingstone, a self-admitted hater of automobiles, is planning to lower the boom on American-style sport utility vehicles and other gas guzzlers by charging a $50-per-day “green tax” for the privilege of driving in the center of London.

Even those who can afford the $140,000-plus it costs to own a top-of-the-line Range Rover Vogue or a Porsche Cayenne Turbo are swallowing hard at that one.

“We’ve become a nanny state. With Mr. Livingstone, we are constantly being told what we can do and cannot do,” said James Rickett, a London property developer and owner of a black Range Rover.

Livingstone disdainfully refers to such vehicles as “Chelsea tractors” – a reference to the posh London neighborhood where they seem to be most popular – and to their affluent drivers as “complete idiots.”

According to the mayor, the new fee targets vehicles “that make the biggest contribution to global warming.”

“Londoners are becoming increasingly aware of the need to tackle climate change, and this summer’s floods were a reminder of the urgency with which we need to reduce CO2 emissions,” Livingstone said in announcing the plan this week.

“The highest CO2-emitting cars – like some of the so-called Chelsea tractors, high-powered sports cars and luxury executive cars – can produce twice as much carbon dioxide as the kind of car driven by the average Londoner,” the mayor said.

Livingstone is a colorful and controversial figure whose chumminess with the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez has earned him the nickname “Red Ken.”

In Chelsea, where statusy Mercedes, BMW and Lexus SUVs are moored like yachts along the narrow, moneyed streets, many residents say the argument is not about the environment, it’s about class warfare and Livingstone’s dislike of those who strut their affluence.

One Chelsea thirtysomething muttered that the mayor had “a problem” with rich people, before roaring off in her Range Rover. She did not pause to give her name.

“It’s no longer a democracy; it’s Big Brother. Mr. Livingstone thinks he’s the one who decides what we are allowed to drive,” a silver-haired man huffed before driving off with his wife and dogs in an Isuzu Trooper. He, too, declined to give his name.

Driving in London already is an expensive proposition. In addition to gasoline that costs more than $6 a gallon, anyone driving into the city’s 6.5-square-mile “congestion zone” between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. must pay a daily fee of $16. Car owners living inside the zone get a 90 percent discount.

Under Livingstone’s new plan, the fees for SUVs and other large-engined cars would increase to $50 a day. And the 90 percent discount given to car owners living within the zone, which includes Chelsea, would not apply to those who drive Chelsea tractors and other guzzlers on Livingstone’s hit list.

Public consultation on the mayor’s plan began Friday and will continue until mid-October. If all goes according to schedule, the new fees would go into effect in February.

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