SUV drivers in Kensington & Chelsea must pay more, say campaigners

New ‘Tractor attack’ report from climate charity Possible calls for ‘polluter pays’ policy and provides data showing how the cost will be borne by richer rather than poorer drivers. 

There’s been a lot of coverage in recent months about the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to outer London boroughs. Advocates of ULEZ point to increasing evidence that nitrous oxides, particulate matter and other pollutants from road transport have serious impacts on health. Electric vehicles (EVs) produce no emissions at the tailpipe, and various schemes run alongside the ULEZ to encourage drivers to transition to EVs. 

black Mercedes-Benz SUV parked beside white building

Photo by Samuel Foster

Those who oppose ULEZ tend to argue that the scheme isn’t fair because – they say – it places greatest burden on those on lower incomes, since they are less able to afford a newer, less-polluting car. Now a new report from Possible provides evidence that the opposite is true. 

In fact, 70% of lowest income Londoners don’t own a car at all and the only impact ULEZ will have on them is to improve air quality where they live and work. But, says the report, those on higher incomes are increasingly likely to drive large, heavy sports utility vehicles (SUVs), which generate an average 20% more CO2 emissions than conventional cars. In fact, some makes of SUV generate much more.  

Of the richest fifth of households in England, 81% are now more likely to own a car in the super-heavy emitting range of 226g of CO2 per km travelled, or more. In the affluent borough of Kensington & Chelsea, the report finds that such heavy and super-emitting vehicles are much more prevalent in highest income postcodes and that the average gCO2/km emitted by residents’ cars consistently increases with the average income of postcodes. 

SUVs comprised some 36% of all new car sales in Kensington & Chelsea in 2022, 30% of new sales in Hammersmith & Fulham, 29% in Westminster and 27% in Wandsworth. 

This trend to bigger and more polluting vehicles means that, on average, a car with a petrol or diesel engine bought in 2013 produces less CO2 emissions than a car bought this year. Even cars that are seven years-old are likely to produce less CO2 per kilometre than the average petrol or diesel car. 

Given all this, Possible calls for targeted higher charges for parking and road use by SUVs and other high-emission vehicles, effectively pricing carbon into transport choices. It argues that this will be both effective and – perhaps more importantly – equitable. 

Of course, such a system could be enacted by central government. But the report is keen to stress that local authorities can take action now. It suggests the introduction of ‘heavy carbon parking surcharges’ for the heaviest CO2 emitting cars. On the same sort of basis as used for income tax bands, there would be an escalating rate for emissions above certain thresholds – 160gCO2/km for heavy and 220gCO2/km for super-heavy-emitting cars. Indeed, Camden Council is already consulting on such a scheme. 

For more, see the full report from Possible: ‘Tractor attack – fairness in pricing traffic pollution and rising SUV emissions in Kensington & Chelsea and beyond’.

In related news:

Birmingham Clean Air Zone reduces pollution by 37%

Up to 500 EV charge points for Stoke-on-Trent  

Bradford Clean Air Zone leads to lowest levels of air pollution ever 


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