You can’t have failed to notice that the motoring sections of the national press have been filled with news and comment about Transport for London’s proposed changes to London’s congestion charge. A tornado strength media storm is blowing in the face of proposals that would mean that small diesel and hybrid cars currently exempt from paying the charge under TfL’s Greener Vehicle Discount scheme would no longer qualify for the discount. Hitting the common and garden motorist where it hurts most – in their pockets.
But this latest news won’t raise the hackles of the commercial sector – commercial hybrid and diesel vehicles have never been exempt from the charge. While motorists driving certain low emission cars have been able to register for exemption, the same has never applied to light commercial vehicles.
Of course, there is one way for businesses to avoid paying the charge - buying an electric vehicle.
But given the commercial sector’s lack of enthusiasm for the Plug-In grant scheme it’s clear that business owners don’t currently see electric vehicles as viable alternatives. The concerns are well known: range anxiety; the limited choice of electrical vehicles and, mostly importantly, the cost.
But by presenting businesses with an “Electric Vehicle or Nothing” choice TfL are presenting no choice at all. In a time of financial uncertainty, chancing their business’ future on an EV is simply too great a risk for many small businesses to take.
So what are TfL saying, that they don’t want commercial vehicles in the congestion charge zone? How do they expect shops to be restocked? And what happens if they need a plumber or electrician at City Hall?
Do they expect him to take the Tube? A bus? Maybe they could hop into one of the 22,000 plus registered taxis that are exempt from the charge?
On the eve of the congestion charge’s 10th birthday, The Freight Transport Association called on TfL to grant free access for delivery vehicles. We think this should be extended – to at least all low-emission commercial vehicles that have no choice but to use the road network within the congestion charge zone.
By doing this government will show their commitment to supporting the backbone of the UK economy and help to ease the financial burden on small business.
So, despite the UK’s transport sector calling on the government to recognise the struggles met by SMEs whose business depend on fleets, the latest proposed plans clearly show that the government is not yet willing to ease the burden just yet.