Mayor of London Ken Livingstone appears to have bowed to fleet pressure and announced a dramatic rethink of the capital's planned congestion charging scheme.
Proposals from Transport for London suggest an extension of exempt vehicle categories to encompass alternatively-fuelled cars, vans and lorries that meet specified emissions standards, including bi-fuel vehicles.
Initial proposals said vehicles that ran exclusively on gas would be exempt from congestion charges, causing an angry outburst from 'green' fleets which had invested heavily in bi-fuel vehicles.
DHL International, which runs 70 bi-fuel vans in the capital, immediately welcomed TfL's apparent change of heart. David Coles, DHL managing director, said: 'DHL has forcefully argued that all LPG vehicles should receive a 100 per cent discount on congestion charges on the grounds they are far more environmentally-friendly than conventional vehicles.'
TfL is also recommending that recovery vehicles used by breakdown organisations should receive a 100 per cent discount.
And it proposes that health service staff who cannot use public transport when they are carrying controlled drugs or confidential patient records, and firefighters who need to drive between stations to carry out essential duties, should be exempt from the charges.
But TfL says pressure from the postal industry regulator means it cannot exempt any Royal Mail delivery vehicles because this would give the organisation an unfair advantage over other courier firms.
The new proposals will go out to consultation, with Livingstone due to make a final decision on the controversial scheme in February.
So far, more than two thousand Londoners have sent in their views on the proposed scheme. If Livingstone decides to go ahead without a public inquiry, the earliest date for the start of the scheme is anticipated to be February 2003.
NEW LONDON CONGESTION CHARGING PROPOSALS
- Charging hours to be 7am-6.30pm rather than 7am - 7pm
- Exemption for light and heavy goods vehicles powered by LNG, CNG or LPG on either a mono or bi-fuel basis if they meet strict emissions criteria
- Exemption for cars powered by LNG, CNG or LPG on a mono or bi-fuel basis, provided they meet strict emissions limits
- Exemption for hybrid and electric goods vehicles
- The following groups to be exempt from the charge: NHS staff who have to use their cars to carry out their duties; fire brigade operational vehicles; firefighters who have to travel between stations; breakdown and recovery vehicles; disabled Blue Badge holders
- Removal of the exemption for Royal Mail liveried vehicles
- New streamlined account system for businesses with fleets of vehicles