Also known as the yellow-vests movement, the gilets jaunes movement in France gets a lot of hate from the left-leaning media. To critics, climate change requires government action, and if that means the working class will have to endure more poverty and misery, that’s just how it is.
But as the gilets jaunes’ message spreads far and wide, the sentiment against fossil fuel taxes is becoming the strongest in neighboring England. And as a new environmental policy goes into effect this month, cab and Uber drivers protest, claiming that charges associated with the new rules will cut their earnings in a meaningful way.
The new rules, which are collectively known as the ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ), go into effect starting April 8, forcing drivers of older vehicles to pay a £12.50 charge to drive inside the northern and southern circular roads in London during peak hours.
To Uber drivers, this could mean £90 a week in charges, wiping out a major chunk of their earnings.
While the new policy does not apply to “clean” cars such as hybrid or electric vehicles, older models are vulnerable. And which drivers are impacted the most as a result? Those who cannot afford to purchase newer cars.
In other words, this new tax isn’t the solution to climate change; it is only a way to make the poor poorer. Unfortunately for the environmentalists' plan, those impacted the most are not going to go down without a fight.
To environmentalists such as Katie Nield, a lawyer at the nonprofit ClientEarth, which is backed by celebrities such as the members of the band Coldplay, this new legislation could be the future of the country, as it could set the standard for air-pollution regulation from now on.
“The way that our legislation works isn’t really good enough,” Nield told reporters. “Air pollution has risen up the political agenda — and the public psyche — even though the same stuff was happening five years ago.”
But if drivers can’t pay the bills, worrying about air pollution drops to the very bottom of their priority list. So who will support these policies if they are unhappy?
Anti–Fossil Fuel Policy Hurts Drivers' Bottom Line
With this new charge, drivers may abandon the roads during certain times of the day altogether. That means that more drivers will be working exclusively at night.
To Uber drivers, that means one thing: less income.
“We rely on surges,” Uber driver Nick told reporters. “If there is an oversupply, then that’s not good for us. But it’s also not good for a lot of the drivers, who aren’t used to driving at night, so that could become a safety problem.”
But in the eyes of black-cab drivers, who are exempted from the ULEZ charge, London Mayor Sadiq Khan is not just targeting Uber, as his strategy of exempting them has nothing to do with favoritism.
Instead, Khan wants to encourage black-cab drivers to ditch their vehicles for hybrid or electric alternatives by no longer approving any gas or diesel taxis. Unfortunately, because drivers have invested a considerable amount of money and time in making their cars appealing to customers, having to… ditch them for a new car just because the mayor told them to will, undoubtedly, be detrimental to their livelihoods.
A History of Bad Policy
While Uber and cab drivers are now protesting in light of both the ULEZ rules and the local government’s refusal to approve fossil fuel–run cars, this isn’t the first restrictive and punitive policy that disproportionately hurts London’s private-transportation professionals.
Earlier in 2019, city officials announced they would close centrally located roads such as Tottenham Court Road to private vehicles for most of the day, from Monday to Saturday. With the goal of easing congestion, city regulators ended up irritating cab drivers especially because city buses are allowed to travel these streets while cabs are banned. Needless to say, buses aren't exactly clean vehicles.
And back in 2003, a congestion charge was added, and drivers who chose to drive within central London were forced to pay a daily fee. In the end, many say that the revenue raised by this scheme was used to expand the city’s own bus network, making a mockery of the green aspirations associated with the imposition.
But bad policies haven’t only hurt private car owners and cabs.
Uber drivers were also heavily impacted by local changes when London regulators refused to renew the firm’s license, claiming the U.S. firm showed a "lack of corporate responsibility" in relation to "public safety and security." While the firm was able to eventually win the fight against local officials in court, this incident shows just how damaging regulations can be.
Furthermore, these policies prove regulators often ignore the little guy in order to implement their own agenda.
In this case, their environmentalist agenda is mostly about giving a particular political group more power, and activists won't stop until they get what they want — even if that means Uber and cab drivers will no longer be able to afford to live in London.