We don’t pay to drive…. ANYWHERE

When London set up its congestion charging system in 2002, the city purposely decided to allow very few exemptions from the fee. Whether you are an elected member of Parliament, an off-duty police officer, or the head of Transport for London, it doesn’t matter. You are still paying £8 ($14) if you want to drive into the crowded center of the city. Limiting exemptions made the law simpler, fairer and easier to enforce.

Over the last four years only one entity has consistently refused to pay London’s congestion charge and, apparently, Mayor Ken Livingstone has finally had enough of it. Yesterday, during a television interview, Livingstone said, "It would actually be quite nice if the American ambassador in Britain could pay the charge that everybody else is paying and not actually try and skive out of it like a chiselling little crook." The US Embassy, which has about 100 cars, refuses to pay the congestion charge and the tens of thousands of pounds of violations it has racked up.

Maybe Livingstone doesn’t get it. We are Americans. Driving is our birthright. We drive in whatever vehicle we want, wherever we want, whenever we want. We fight wars and spill American blood to ensure these rights. The message from the Bush Administration to the United Kingdom and the rest of the world is clear: Take your congestion charges, bike infrastructure, bus rapid transit systems, and greenhouse gas emission reduction schemes and stick ’em. As Dick Cheney said in 2002, "The American way of life is not negotiable." Who could have known that the vice president was talking about parking tickets.

  • AD

    Wow. Great piece of news, Aaron. What reason do we give for not paying the congestion charge? Maybe this is analogous to ambassadors to the U.N. who are diplomatically immune to NYC traffic tickets.

  • Disputo

    The US ambassador ridiculously claims the charge is a “tax” and not a “toll”, and diplomats are not required to pay “taxes”.

  • David

    Brooklyn Borough President Markowitz employs exactly the same semantics to oppose East River Bridge tolls: “It’s a ‘tax’ on Brooklynites”!

  • It’s my understanding that all (or most?) of the diplomats from every country refuse to pay. Is that incorrect?

  • steveo

    I wonder if American Embassy employees also jump the turnstile when they take the Tube.

  • David,

    I interviewed a Transport for London higher-up a few weeks back and he said that the US embassy was the only exception he could think of.

  • Well the Germans do also seem to be resistant…Here’s a very interesting page on the legal issues:

    http://www.barder.com/ephems/2005/10/24/diplomatic-immunity-and-the-london-congestion-charge/

  • The Germans in fact were resisting at a time when the gov’t had a Green as foreign minister – go figure.

    It’s worth checking out recent polls about the freedoms contained in the first amendment – a lot of Americans indeed think one of the 5 freedoms there is the right to drive a car.

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