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Does the congestion charge work

Back in February 2003, London’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone, decided that enough was enough. Sick of the 24/7 traffic jam in our Capital, he decided to introduce a congestion charge. It now costs £11.50 to drive a vehicle between 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday within the central London charging zone. Or you can save a thrifty £1 a day by using their Auto Pay systems.

How does it work?

Tempted to break the rules? A network of cameras has been installed and now read car number plates, clocking when you enter and leave the zone. They then match the number plate against the database of those who have paid, and if you have paid, the photographic images are wiped. If you haven’t paid the daily charge, you’ll be slapped with a £130 penalty. Ouch. Sounds good for the government’s coffers, but has it worked?

Has traffic decreased?

A decade later in an interview with the BBC, Ken admitted the congestion charge was the only thing in his political career that “turned out better than I expected". But then again, he would be a tad biased!

At the turn of the century, our capital was undoubtedly plagued by some of the worst congestion levels in Europe. The introduction of the congestion charge cut traffic in the city centre by a whopping 15% immediately. Of that 15%, around half of them took public transport; the remainder got a lift, cycled or altogether avoided the area.

And it didn’t stop there, between 2002 and 2006, traffic fell by 21%. The result? 70,000 less vehicles trying to cram their way through the centre of London every day. So, can we declare it a roaring success?

So, it’s worked?

Well, not entirely. Whilst personal driving has decreased, the number of taxis has risen 13% and buses and coaches 25%. That’s a big change in traffic, but it doesn’t necessarily mean less congestion.

There was an initial drop in congestion by 20 – 30% immediately after the introduction of the charge. However this reduction hasn’t been sustained and slowly but surely traffic jam occurrences are returning.

Transport for London (TfL) who run the scheme suggest this could be the fault of an increase in street works. Replacing water and gas mains and building more bus lanes cited as specific examples.

Despite the increase in traffic recent years, overall, it has been a success. A decade on from the introduction of the scheme there has been an overall reduction in traffic levels of 10%. Not to be sniffed at.

Has it improved anything else?

Despite being born out of frustration at traffic, it looks like the charge may have positively impacted London in a few other ways too. Including:

  • Air quality: TfL have reported that levels of nitrogen oxides (NOX), fell by 13.4% between 2002 & 2003.
  • Road safety: TfL estimated that some 40 and 70 injuries may have been avoided annually due to the introduction of the charging zone.
  • Public transport: TfL has also said that bus usage in inner London has increased from under 90,000 before the charge, to 116,000 journeys per day by 2007.


published: 17/03/2015 09:04:55

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