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.
For more details of the data on congestion and the impact of the Congestion Charge see the reports accessible from this web page: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion
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.
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