Own a pre 2007 sports bike? You might want to read this.

Unless you live in a cave you’ll probably have heard that plans have been announced to charge bikers £12.50 to ride in to central London; if, that is, they’re not rich. Whether you ride in London or not, this affects you. “First they came for the Londoners, but I was not a Londoner so I did not speak out”, to paraphrase the poet. We all have a dog in this fight.

How so?

The catchily-titled “Ultra Low Emission Zone”, or ULEZ, will come in to force in 2020 and charge the fee to all pre 2007 bikes. Basically, buy something expensive and “clean” or push off and take your grubby machine with you. If you can’t afford an expensive new bike (or car, the measure will apply to all other petrol and diesel vehicles too), get a bus or move. Not unreasonably, bikers who ride in central London and can’t afford £10,000 for a new bike are a bit miffed. But if you live elsewhere in the country you should be equally concerned. The ULEZ will raise huge amounts of money, and cut air pollution. Experts say that if it works in London it’ll become an unstoppable juggernaut (although a fuel-efficient modern one, presumably) which will spread to cities across Britain.

Let’s get something out of the way early. Controversial as this measure is, London’s air is amongst the worst in Europe and the health implications of that are hideous. The old phrase “something must be done” applies here.

That bargain 750 you just bought will cost you £12.50 a day to ride in Central London

That bargain litre bike you just bought will cost you £12.50 a day to ride in Central London

So what have they done, and what’s the problem? In the simplest terms, it works like this: The EU lays down emissions regulations for new vehicles. Every few years it tightens them. So back in 2007 the rules were known as “Euro 3”. These days new vehicles have to adhere to “Euro 6” and above.

Boris Johnson has decreed that from 2020 only vehicles meeting certain of these Euro standards and above will be allowed in the middle of London without paying £12.50. For bikers that means bikes built after 2007. For diesel car or van drivers, it’s even worse – they need vehicles made after September 2015.

The system will be enforced using automatic numberplate recognition, or ANR. Breach the rules on your bike and you’ll be fined £12.50. The same figure, by the way, as a car, van or small lorry; something which would seem to suggest this is as much about raising cash as cutting emissions, given the pollution difference between a CB500 and a panel van.

The days of the used bike bargain are numbered in big cities.

The days of the used bike bargain are numbered in big cities.

The controversy here, and the reason folk are a tad angry, is a moral one.

Drive a £230,000 Bentley which spews unspeakable amounts of pollution? No problem. £12.50 a day is nothing to you and it leaves the roads cheerfully clear of poor people so that you can make that lunch with your hedge fund pals in Shepherd Market.

If, however, you are employed to clean that hedge fund’s offices and you ride a 2002 scooter because it costs £10 a week in petrol rather than £6 a journey on the Tube all the way in (and it will be a long way in, because you obviously can’t afford to rent or buy in the city itself any more), then you’re screwed.

The fact that Boris and his pals may not live on the same planet as the rest of us is further demonstrated by the “residents’ waiver”. If you live in the ULEZ you have three years’ grace to get a new vehicle. The zone runs from Camden in the north to Kennington in the south, and Paddington in the west to Tower Hamlets in the east….in other words the spread where the average property price is more than £800,000. That’s property price, not house price. Houses start at over a million. This is not where the office cleaners and the posties, the shop workers and the nurses tend to live. They can’t afford it. So no exemption for them, but the full weight of £62.50 a week to get in by bike (and plus Congestion Charge if they drive a car).

This is a terribly blunt instrument which affects poorer people far more than it affects richer people. It’s like a motoring Poll Tax, only worse. The Poll Tax levelled the same fee on everyone regardless of ability to pay, whereas the ULEZ does that but then adds “unless you’re rich enough to buy your way out of it.”

Transport For London (TfL) says it’s okay because if you’re too poor to pay you can just go round. In doing so they have created Britain’s first two-tier road system. The wealthy get the quick route, the poor can take the long one.

This creation of what I am going to call “Bentley Lanes” is about something even worse though. It is the latest in a string of trends and measures which contribute to the onward march of the economic cleansing of London. Day by day the city becomes less vibrant, less diverse and frankly less interesting as astronomic living costs combine with record house prices and sky-high rents to force ordinary folk out of the city. Sub-cultures are disappearing as old shops, bars, businesses and cafes are forced out and redeveloped in to eye-wateringly expensive retail outlets, trendy bars and £100-a-head restaurants. The art and music scenes which help make London “cool” and attract the rich in the first place are shifting to regional cities elsewhere, as the low-income creatives are driven out year by year.

Large parts of what will become the ULEZ are already cleansed, home only to the very wealthy (and sometimes not even that, as they park their money in buildings they never see, much less live in).

I work in it. The only normal people you meet there now are those who come in from the outer reaches of the city to service the new masters; clean their windows, serve them drinks or sell them cigarettes and newspapers.

Thanks to ULEZ many of them won’t even be able to do that in a few years.

Then the rich will have the place to themselves. A anodyne city centre free of ghastly poor people…with filthy windows, very long waits at the bar and nowhere to buy a packet of fags.

This blog was written by:

James Clark’s first career was in journalism, where he spent a number of years on national newspapers, latterly as Defence Correspondent of The Sunday Times reporting from war zones including The Balkans, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. He then moved in to government work and consultancy, working in Iraq, the US, and the middle east. Today he is old and knackered so works behind a desk in London, with the odd trip to Africa thrown in to keep his sun tan up. He still writes occasionally, mostly on football and bikes. His ambition is to combine the two. James lives mainly in his garage, an arrangement everyone is happy with.

A man is generally happiest in his garage, especially if he's sat on his arse doing nothing.

A man is generally happiest in his garage, especially if he’s sat on his arse doing nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Clark’s first career was in journalism, where he spent a number of years on national newspapers, latterly as Defence Correspondent of The Sunday Times reporting from war zones including The Balkans, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. He then moved in to government work and consultancy, working in Iraq, the US, and the middle east. Today he is old and knackered so works behind a desk in London, with the odd trip to Africa thrown in to keep his sun tan up. He still writes occasionally, mostly on football and bikes. His ambition is to combine the two. James lives mainly in his garage, an arrangement everyone is happy with.

JC Blog post

A man in a garage is always happy, especially if he’s sat on his arse doing nothing.

 

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