The Government has responded negatively to the Parliament Transport Committee on road pricing with these words: “……. as set out in the Chancellor’s previous letter the Government does not currently have plans to consider road pricing. Given this, the Government does not have further views on the Committee’s recommendations for the ways in which road pricing should be considered. More broadly, as noted previously the Government will need to ensure that the tax system encourages the uptake of EVs, and revenue from motoring taxes will need to keep pace with this change, while remaining affordable for consumers. Our tax system has already begun to adapt to this transition. From 2025, electric cars, vans and motorcycles will pay Vehicle Excise Duty in the same way as petrol and diesel vehicles. The Government will continue to keep all tax policy under review.”
We have just passed the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of the London Congestion Charge. This has been hailed as a success by TfL management and Mayor Sadiq Khan but is it? In reality it might have reduced the number of vehicles on the roads of central London as some users have been deterred or changed their travel modes or patterns, but it has not reduced congestion.
This scheme was installed in 2002 to the City and West End with a Western Extension into Kensington and Chelsea introduced in 2007 which was later removed. There is a charge per day for driving anywhere within the zone boundary. This was originally set at £5 per day but rose to £10 at the end of 2010, when the Western Extension was scrapped. It was raised to £11.50 per day from June 2014, and to £15 from June 2020 plus extended to 24 hours per day every day.
The original justification for the charge was that it would solve London’s perennial road traffic congestion (environmental benefits were not an argument used because it was known they would be minimal). But it did not solve the congestion problem with that soon returning to the same level as before and subsequently becoming a lot worse. The environmental claims made by some have also been shown to be false with air pollution within the zone basically unchanged as a result. Neither does it raise any significant funds for public transport improvements because almost all the revenue from the scheme goes in operating costs. Indeed if it was not for the accidental fines people collect from forgetting to pay the charge, it would probably lose money. Note that the Congestion Charge was introduced by socialist car-hating Mayor Ken Livingstone. It has impacted the poor more heavily than the wealthy and hence is a very regressive tax.
The Congestion Charge is of course a remarkably stupid system where the charge is only payable once per day however many times a vehicle drives into the zone or how far they travel. This has encouraged the use of Private Hire Vehicles and taxis which have increased enormously in numbers as a result, thus adding to congestion.
Neither does it encourage low emission vehicles or discourage high emission ones.
Nor does it discourage travel at the busiest times of day as the charge is the same whenever you travel. So there is little benefit in reducing congestion.
Nor is there any concession to people who need to travel within the zone for medical reasons (several major London hospitals lie within the zone and although there is a refund claim system for NHS patients it is complicated to make claims). Nor for any other people who provide essential services such as social carers or plumbers/electricians.
Now the Greater London Assembly (GLA) is holding an inquiry into Smart User Road Charging and are inviting evidence – see https://tinyurl.com/5n8h453s . The Freedom for Drivers Foundation has submitted a response to this inquiry which can be read here: https://tinyurl.com/rryz64hw
If the Mayor pushes ahead with the expanded ULEZ he will have a lot more cameras which could be used to make the Congestion Charge system more intelligent but it can never be made a really sophisticated system without a change in the technology.
There is one thing for certain though. Public reaction to road user charging will continue to be negative as it is just seen as a way to raise more tax from drivers.
Both the City of Cambridge in England and the City of New York in the USA are currently considering congestion charging schemes. That’s despite the fact that the London scheme has proved to be an abject failure in cutting congestion even after increases in the charge several times.
The Cambridge scheme has been proposed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership and would impose a charge of £5 for private vehicles between 7am and 7pm on weekdays. There may be some exemptions and bus fares may be able to be reduced as a result – but there are no promises on either.
Note that there was a debate on a proposed congestion charge for Cambridge at which I spoke in 2008. See a report on the meeting on this web page: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion . The vote at the end was against one.
New York has also been considering a congestion charge scheme for some time but there has been strong opposition. Particularly from New Jersey residents who already pay high tolls to cross bridges into the City. The proposed charge by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to drive into downtown Manhattan would be $23 and would be used to subsidise public transport fares.
New York has the same problem as London. Transit ridership has rebounded slower than the MTA was anticipating after the pandemic. Weekday subway ridership is about 60% of 2019 levels. Revenue used to cover about half of the MTA’s operating costs but now pay for 30%, according to the MTA.
Any congestion charge scheme would still need Federal approval.
Are you concerned about the erosion of privacy? One issue that is coming to the fore but has not yet caught the attention of the public is the use of cameras on our roads to monitor our behaviour and potentially to catch criminals.
The cameras used to monitor drivers to ensure they pay the Congestion Charge or ULEZ charges were never intended to be routinely used by the police. Limited access to ANPR cameras was granted for specific investigations some years ago but Sadiq Khan now wants to expand their use. This is being legally challenged by London Assembly Member Sian Berry and an organisation called the Open Rights Group. Ms Berry has said:” I am deeply disappointed that the Mayor has not listened to repeated warnings that sharing the cameras from the expanded clean air zone with the police was a huge increase in surveillance of Londoners that should not be signed off by his office. I have been telling the Mayor since 2019 that sharing this data with the police is wrong and that Londoners must have their say in any decision”.
The expanded use of the cameras might include pictures of vehicles and their occupants and include the use of facial recognition technology which the Met already has available.
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has laid down guidelines on the use of cameras in public places and in essence there needs to be reasonable justification. There is a Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner who has recently questioned the legality of the use of ANPR cameras to enforce the proposed expanded ULEZ. He said there is limited evidence it would benefit society and therefore its legality is questionable.
Cameras are now being used to enforce Low Traffic Neighbourhood and School Street schemes by some Councils and this has turned into a money-making project in many cases. The profits to be made from such schemes should not be a justification for the use of ANPR cameras but they often are.
Comment: This whole area needs to be more subject to public debate and regulation. Some people think that expanding surveillance would reduce crime although there is limited evidence to support that. Others think that they do not want to live in a surveillance society where your every move is monitored and recorded.
One question is how cost effective such monitoring would be. Accessing ANPR images when specificially required and justified for the investigation of crimes is one thing. But a more general monitoring capability might involve enormous costs even if some of the activity could be automated.
There was a very good article by David Frost on the right to drive freely published by the Daily Telegraph today (29/7/2022). He talks about a world where private cars are banned. He suggests Governments haven’t quite done that but there are people who want to ban cars in some large cities and suggests one day some feeble Red-Green mayor somewhere in Europe will surely give in to it. Meanwhile our leaders are doing everything short of it.
To quote from the article: “But this is not just about technology. It is about human flourishing. The bicycle first allowed people to move from where they lived. The car hugely expanded it. The van and delivery lorry got goods all around the country and the car gave people access to this huge choice. People could go out whatever the weather. They could buy enough food for a week and free up time for things they preferred doing. The disabled, the old, or just those seeking a day out somewhere different, all could get to where they needed to go”; and “There is obviously no substitute for the car outside urban areas. But, even in big cities, public transport will never do everything we need. It runs where the planners want it and when the transport unions allow it. Not everyone wants to travel to the city centre or along a tube line. Only the private car, under autonomous control, can take you where you want to go. Too many of our modern rulers would rather you didn’t.”
He concludes with the comment “Cars are about freedom – going where you want and no one saying you can’t”. That well summarises what the Freedom for Drivers Foundation stands for.
New York has been considering a congestion charge for some years, but it has always been opposed by surrounding boroughs. A good article in the New York Times (see link below), spells out why it should not happen in an article which is headlined “Congestion pricing is coming to NYC — though London shows it’s a disaster”.
This is some of what the article, written by Joe Borelli, minority leader of the New York City Council, says:
“Before Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature smack us with this new tax, they may want to check whether it actually works.
Will it deliver on its promise to greatly reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality and address transit-revenue gaps?
If you ask Londoners, certainly not.
The city’s traffic scheme has not lived up to the hype, and now London is not only the most congested city in the United Kingdom, it is the most congested city in the world.
In 2021, London drivers lost an average of 148 hours to congestion, costing $1,211 per driver, as it topped the most recent Global Traffic Scorecard compiled by INRIX, a leading transportation-analytics firm. (If you’re wondering, New York City is only the fifth-most congested city, just below Moscow.)
This study isn’t an outlier. Pre-COVID London was ranked among the worst traffic cities by the TomTom Traffic Index, “out-trafficking” crowded cities like Shenzhen and Kuala Lumpur. An earlier 2019 Inrix traffic analysis further confirms London has more congestion than New York. Imagine that — the Empire State, the Big Apple taking their cue from a city whose solution is worse than our problem. Bollocks!
Despite London’s ballyhooed congestion charge, it’s planning a massive restructuring. The CO2 from all the idling cars clogging the capital have spurred Mayor Sadiq Khan to propose scrapping the current £15 ($20) fee system altogether in favor of an entirely new scheme in which all London drivers would incur an initial surcharge and pay an existing “Ultra Low Emission Zone” fee, plus pay-per-mile charges as needed.
Nothing screams “Success!” or “Replicate me!” like London’s leadership proposing a start-from-scratch overhaul because the system failed to meet its goals.
Essentially, London may soon be charging motorists as if they were taxi passengers — except they will be driving themselves in their own cars, along streets their tax money already pays for. We could chuckle about the absurdity of all this if only Democrats like President Joe Biden were not already pushing our own mileage-tax proposals here in the States.
The real reason London leaders are planning a vastly expanded tax structure on all vehicles may be far more cynical than saving the planet: The city desperately needs more revenue. Despite all the fees and fines it has collected since congestion pricing went into effect, the city’s public transit and roadway agency, Transport for London (TfL), is going broke.
As it stands, despite receiving a massive COVID bailout from the national government, TfL needs another $1.3 billion annually to operate in the black. Even before the pandemic, TfL’s budget shortfalls and cost overruns were more consistent than its bus schedule.
All this should sound eerily familiar to outer-borough New Yorkers who at present pay for the privilege of driving to posh Manhattan while their own streets remain choked in transit deserts.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority already runs its own version of congestion pricing, called MTA Bridges and Tunnels. Under this scheme, the state chooses which bridges and tunnels motorists must pay to cross to subsidize the public transportation of others. Just like London, a series of anti-car progressive lefties have pushed increases of these fees to satisfy MTA budget needs. In the past 30 years, those tolls have increased more than 375%. Even Bidenflation can’t keep up.
We don’t need to know how a new driving tax will affect our lives — we are already living it.
London’s congestion-pricing failure should serve as a cautionary tale. But our “leadership” in Albany is not going to read it let alone heed its warnings.
Instead, after New York City’s congestion plan creates more traffic, fails to reduce emissions and produces far less revenue than expected, Hochul & Co. are likely to arrive at the same conclusion as their London counterparts: charge more money, impose higher fees and expand the catchment area.
In the end, all roads lead to revenue”
Mr Borelli is right, the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) has never worked and is primarily a revenue raising measure. It should be scrapped! And New Yorkers should not follow London’s example.
Road pricing has proved politically unacceptable to date. But a report from the House of Commons Transport Committee published today (4/2/2022) makes it very clear that it needs to happen and very soon (see link below).
The problem is that VED and fuel duty generate 4% of overall tax receipts. But as people switch to electric vehicles almost all of that will be lost by 2040. In addition traffic congestion might become worse as the cost of journeys will be reduced when nobody is paying for fuel.
The Transport Committee rightly points out that the plethora of local schemes that are now appearing such as the London Congestion Charge/ ULEZ taxes and CAZ schemes in other cities mean too much complexity is the result. There needs to be a single unified national scheme.
How to provide that? Telematics is the answer they suggest when a black box in every vehicle could track usage and enable charging based on distance travelled, roads used, vehicle type used, etc. It could be an ideal solution in essence to meet several policy objectives and yet be user friendly in operation.
The Committee suggests that whatever options are chosen to replace fuel duty should be “revenue neutral” and not cause drivers as a whole to pay more than they do currently. This is quite essential as that was one of the major objections to road pricing in the past. It could enable the Government to raise taxes on motoring when motorists already pay over £50 billion in taxes (only a very small fraction of the money raised is spent on improving our roads – about £7bn).
The Committee also say that the situation is urgent and a recommendation for a road pricing solution needs to be developed by the end of 2022. The only obvious omission from the Report is the lack of consideration of the cost of a national road pricing scheme.
Comment: the Committee’s Report is certainly worth reading. I do not see any viable alternative to their proposals. No doubt there will be opposition from some motoring groups who like to live in the past but they won’t have any other practical solutions to put forward.
As the Report says: “The Government must start an honest conversation with the public on the funding implications for road development and maintenance and for other essential public services of decreased revenue from vehicle excise duty and fuel duty”. I agree but readers should add their own comments to this blog – but please read the Committee’s Report first.
Two days ago (on 17/01/2022) I pointed out on this blog that the Mayor’s Budget document spelled out that road pricing in London was definitely anticipated. His budgets for future years depend on it.
It became clearer what he is planning yesterday when both the BBC and London Evening Standard provided more details of the Mayor’s plan – see links below.
His proposals include a small daily charge on everyone who drives in London – perhaps £2. He claims this is required based on a report commissioned by City Hall that found that a 27% reduction in London’s car traffic was required by 2030 to meet net-zero ambitions. He has the powers to introduce this but he is also considering a London entry charge for anyone who drives in from outside. A boundary charge (of perhaps £3.5 per day) would require Government consent when they don’t currently favour it.
Longer term, by the end of the decade, he would like to introduce a pay- per-mile system although the technology to do that is not yet available.
In the meantime it looks very likely that he will extend the ULEZ to the whole of London.
The Mayor has said “I have got to make sure there is a disincentive to drive your car, particularly if it is petrol or diesel, when there are alternatives, like public transport”. Yes he would like to force everyone to use public transport which of course he has a financial incentive to advocate. It’s yet another reason to take TfL out of the control of the Mayor.
The justification for these measures is to tackle air pollution and defeat climate change. It certainly won’t do the latter and there is a very good debunking of the claims of death from air pollution on the web site Not a Lot of People Know That – see link below.
Improving air quality is certainly something the Freedom for Drivers Foundation supports but there needs to be a clear cost/benefit and the measures our national Government has been taking have been by far the most effective to reduce air pollution. London’s measures introduced by Sadiq Khan have been enormously financially damaging with very little benefit. He postures about saving the world while spending your money ineffectively.
In June 2020 the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) was increased from £11.50 to £15.00 and the hours of coverage were extended. This was stated to be a temporary increase to cope with the Covid epidemic which was expected to lead to more people using private vehicles, when in fact traffic has reduced as more people worked from home.
Now the Mayor has announced more changes which are:
Phase 1 (from 20 December 2021)
The charge level will stay at £15.
The 90 per cent residents’ discount will be re-opened for all eligible residents to register for the discount.
The delayed payment charge will be £17.50 and the deadline will be extended to three days after the day of travel.
The Auto Pay and Fleet Auto Pay discount will be removed – that means an additional £1 payable for those registered with Auto Pay (a high proportion of payers).
The reimbursement arrangements that were introduced as part of the temporary changes will be retained or adapted to ensure that people most vulnerable to infection from epidemics and pandemics will continue to be protected. This will also facilitate essential trips made by NHS staff in times of exceptional or extraordinary circumstances including for commuting purposes – see https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/reimbursements-of-the-congestion-charge-and-ulez-charge for details.
The ability for residents to pay by App or online for multiple consecutive charging days will be removed.
Phase 2 (from 21 February 2022)
The operating hours for the Congestion Charge will be 07:00-18:00 on weekdays and 12:00-18:00 on weekends and Bank Holidays.
There was a public consultation on the proposed changes although only 9,680 responses were received when there are 2.6 million cars registered in London. Clearly most people affected did not know about it. The consultation did not ask simple questions about whether people supported the proposals or not. Our comment that the proposals lacked any evidence base to support them were reported however.
But the consultation report (available from here: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/congestion-charge-changes ) claims that the Congestion Charge was successful in reducing congestion which is simply not true. This is a blatant lie repeatedly made by TfL. See our analysis on this page: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion . There has been no published data on traffic journey times in recent years, for reasons you can guess, but the experience of most drivers suggests it has got worse not better.
Comment: The Congestion Charge has always been about taxing London’s motorists to raise money for the Mayor and TfL to spend money on subsidising uneconomic public transport and on their bloated empire. These changes may mean that TfL will make over £100 million more in taxation if the higher Congestion Charge is retained.
You cannot tackle traffic congestion by charging because the unsatisfied demand for private transport is so high that people will pay almost anything for it and any road space released is soon filled up by new entrants. During the pandemic that is even more the case.
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A report by traffic information supplier Inrix says London has become the most congested city in the world. Its drivers are losing an average of 148 hours per years sitting in traffic. Other UK cities with major congestion problems are Cambridge, Bristol, Exeter and Cheltenham.
Inrix’s Peter Lees blames a lot of the problem on cycle lanes which have made congestion worse. That is certainly true in London where the expenditure on cycle lanes has been very counter-productive. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) have also contributed in a big way to increased traffic congestion in many parts of London.
Comment: The result in London is a direct consequence of the defective Mayor’s Transport Strategy which has encouraged cycling when that remains a minority interest. Public transport has been massively subsidised while the road network has been corrupted by dogmatic policies.
The Mayor needs to learn that you cannot solve traffic congestion by taxing motorists as should be self-evident by now. Clearly a different approach is needed but the Mayor and TfL management put their heads in the sand and ignore the problems they have created.
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