London Adds Charge for Older Diesel Vehicles to Fight Pollution

The authorities track who owes the new fees by using the same enforcement systems used for the congestion charge: Surveillance cameras monitor vehicles that enter and leave the city center, and a failure to pay the levy results in an additional fine.

“We’ve got a health crisis in London caused directly by the poor-quality air,” Mayor Sadiq Khan said in an interview with the BBC on Monday. “Roughly speaking, more than 9,000 Londoners die prematurely because of the poor quality air.”

“We’ve got a health crisis in London caused directly by the poor-quality air,” Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC on Monday.Credit Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Mr. Khan said air pollution contributed to the underdevelopment of children’s lungs and the development of maladies like asthma, dementia and strokes in adults. In a statement, the mayor said he himself had recently begun to suffer from asthma.

The mayor’s office posted a flurry of statistics online in support of the fee. It said drivers made roughly six million trips in London each day and roughly a third of them drove less than two kilometers, or about 1.2 miles.

Roughly 40 percent of air pollution in the city comes from diesel vehicles, Mr. Khan’s office said. Many of those are being driven short distances or for less-than-urgent reasons like “shopping, leisure and personal business,” it said.

“Many of these trips could be made in other ways,” it said. “Unnecessary car use is putting our health at risk.”

London’s action is likely to embolden other European cities to impose similar restrictions. Paris, Madrid and Athens have announced plans to ban diesels beginning in 2025. In Germany, numerous cities, including the automaking centers Stuttgart and Munich, are considering bans of older diesel vehicles.

Despite assertions by automakers that diesel is clean, studies by the German, French and British governments have found that virtually all manufacturers took advantage of loopholes in European Union regulations. That allowed them to weaken a vehicle’s emissions controls during everyday driving to reduce wear and tear on the car’s antipollution equipment.

As a result, levels of harmful nitrogen oxides in urban areas have remained high despite emissions standards that, on paper, have grown progressively more rigorous. City governments are under pressure to ban diesel in order to avoid sanctions for excess pollution.

The backlash against diesel has even become a threat to Germany’s economy, which is dependent on automaking. Until recently more than half of new cars sold in Europe had diesel engines, largely because of tax breaks that ensure that diesel fuel is less expensive at the pump.

But consumers are abandoning diesel because of health concerns and fears that they may be compelled to park their cars outside city limits. In Germany, Europe’s largest car market, sales of cars with diesel engines have fallen more than 20 percent during the last year.

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