Congestion charging

It was meant to be the Great Congestion Charge Chaos of London.

by
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The capital's population would wake up on 17 February 2003 to motor mayhem as mayor Ken Livingstone's road toll plan was put into practice. Feeder roads around the C-zone would fume with frustrated rat-runners; crazy cyclists would weave hazardously between traffic queues, mounting pavements and taking out pedestrians. The creaking Tube system would buckle under the strain of extra commuters, and white van man would escape the toll by fixing false number plates. Livingstone, faced with mass civil disobedience from Britain's most vociferous lobby group - car drivers - would beat a retreat. As dawn broke, the world watched, expecting a modern-day commuter Armageddon. But nothing happened. A year on, congestion in the restricted eight square miles is down by 30%, and traffic 15%. Traffic speed in the zone has increased, the number of bus trips is up, pollution is down and, despite teething troubles, the technology has held out. The mayor has won a second term and Stockholm, San Francisco and Sao Paolo are considering similar schemes. This is not to say there hasn't been criticism - the perils of extending the zone to Kensington and Chelsea are clear, as is the rumoured Heathrow charge. But in terms of reduced congestion, the scheme is a success. In fact, too much of a good thing. In its first year, the charge raised £68 million, well short of the predicted £200 million.

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