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UK Tolling Zone Introduced In The Name Of Clean Air
Birmingham, England, completes preparation for tolling zone set to debut in June.

Clean Air Zone map
London, England, introduced a tax on drivers entering the downtown area in the name of reducing congestion in 2003. Birmingham has now installed all 67 of the round-the-clock surveillance cameras needed for a nearly identical tolling system in the name of reducing pollution. Birmingham's "Clean Air Zone" was supposed to go live last July, but the debut is now postponed until June due to the Covid-19 virus scare.

Select motorists entering the boundaries defined by the A4540 Middleway Ring Road will be charged £8 (US $11) per day, while delivery trucks charged £50 (US $68) under the initial fee schedule. Vehicles favored by the government are exempt from the tax. London's former mayor in 2006 explained that he had specifically tailored his program to outlaw "Chelsea Tractors," a phrase used to disparage SUVs. A report by London Assembly members found concluded that the zone failed to reduce congestion (view report) and a King's College researcher found the zone increased pollution. The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) insists Birmingham's Clean Air Zone will be equally ineffective at its stated goal.

"The daily charges are unlikely to have a significant positive impact on air quality, but they could have a devastating financial effect on individuals and businesses that cannot afford to buy newer compliant vehicles," ABD environment spokesman Paul Biggs said.

The group pointed out that air quality in Birmingham has improved massively in the past few decades, with a 70 and 78 percent drop in nitrogen oxides and particulate matter readings since 1970.

The British public historically has not looked favorably on "zone pricing." London's tax was introduced by Ken Livingstone while serving as mayor. Five years later, Livingstone lost his re-election bid by six points to Boris Johnson, who campaigned on scaling back the charging zone. When the question of introducing a congestion tax was brought to Manchester residents that year, 79 percent margin voted against the proposal. Seventy-four percent of voters in Edinburgh, Scotland likewise rejected a congestion tax proposal in a 2005 referendum. More than 1.8 million voters signed an official petition to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair opposing the concept of road pricing.

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