Pollution fees, not fines

London mayor Ken Livingstone brought congestion charges into the mainstream by implementing them in the British capital. In extreme cases, they strike me as a reasonable way of keeping traffic moving efficiently — when the road infrastructure is fully jammed and you need some way to limit access to people who’ll use it best.

Charging polluting drivers a fee to drive in your city looks like the same thing and superficially it jibes with the idea of making polluters pay for the clean air they consume. But what “Red Ken” is actually doing is more fine than fee:

Lorries, buses and coaches who don’t meet emissions standards will pay £200, while heavy vans and minibuses, will find themselves on the business end of £100 per day. Cameras will monitor any emission-spewing entrants into the capital.

It’s difficult to imagine that any vehicle that doesn’t meet emissions standards will actually do £100 or £200 a day in damage. This is punitive.  Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but let’s call the move what it is.

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