Congestion charge for Central London to reduce traffic by 15%

A £5 charge for all private vehicles entering Central London is the most high-profile pledge contained in The Mayor’s Transport Strategy, which sets the framework for transport in the capital for the next decade.

The strategy was unveiled by London Mayor Ken Livingstone on the 10 July and aims to cut traffic in the centre of the city by 15% by using a congestion charge for all private and commercial vehicles, except taxis, during the peak hours of 7 am to 7 pm on weekdays by 2003, following an extensive public consultation earlier this year. “My transport strategy is the most comprehensive and ambitious plan to expand and improve transport that London has ever seen,” the Mayor commented. “It will radically improve and expand public transport, and take strong measures – including congestion charging in central London – to reduce the traffic congestion which blights the city.”

Traffic congestion and under-resourced public transport are regularly identified by the public and business as London’s most pressing problems, the Greater London Authority says. London’s transport crisis harms business efficiency, threatens to undermine the city’s competitive position in the world, and worsens the quality of life of Londoners with traffic congestion such that roads in central London and some London town centres are now approaching gridlock – polluting the city’s air and causing misery to motorists, bus passengers and pedestrians alike, says the GLA. The new strategy addresses the needs of outer, inner and central London especially aiming to extend the transport system to support regeneration in Eeast London and other areas.

Apart from congestion charging the main elements of the strategy are:

  • to increase and improve bus services with 27 major routes upgraded by April 2002 and a 70p flat rate bus fare to be introduced throughout the city. Increases in the bus capacity of 40% are the aim by 2011, with improved reliability and increased frequency of services;
  • to increase London Underground and rail capacity by 40% in ten years, tackling the backlog of investment on the Underground to increase capacity, reduce overcrowding, and increase both reliability and frequency of services. Two thirds of new capacity will be delivered by new the cross-London rail schemes, Thameslink, Crossrail, the East London Line and the Hackney-South West Line;
  • to reduce traffic growth in inner London to zero and in outer London by a third and also reduce congestion through more extensive use of parking fines, especially along bus routes;
  • to improve access to international transport facilities and introduce new Thames river crossings in east London;
  • to support local transport initiatives, including improved access to town centres and regeneration areas, walking and cycling schemes, road safety improvements, better maintenance of roads and bridges, and improved co-ordination of streetworks; and
  • to bring forward new integration initiatives to improve key transport interchanges, ensure that taxis and private hire vehicles are improved and fully incorporated into London’s transport system and provide much better information and waiting environment.

The GLA says that a Mori poll of more than 1,000 Londoners showed 51% of people in favour of a congestion charging scheme for central London. Its strategy follows a year of consultation with residents, businesses and other stakeholders in which the Mayor received 118,500 inquiries and responses from the public. The GLA says that the strategy will require up to £500 million more by 2006/7 than the funding levels implied by the Government’s 10 Year Plan for Transport (see related story). The net revenue of an estimated £200 million per annum from the proposed central London congestion charging scheme could cover part of this funding gap, it says but argues that the Government should increase its implied funding by up to £300 million a year by 2006/7.

Transport 2000, the independent national body concerned with sustainable transport, said that it applauded the Mayor’s plans in general, especially the use of congestion charges. “It is the only mechanism available to Local Authorities for reducing traffic,” spokesman Steve Hounsham told edie. “In the long term the charges will lead to people taking other forms of transport and represents the first time a major city in Western Europe has introduced such a system. Lots of authorities across the UK and Europe will be looking at London to see if it is a successful test case.”

However, the Association of British Drivers said that the use of congestion charges would only lead to further traffic problems. “Although the charge will reduce traffic in the centre in peak times, it will increase it outside the times of charging and in surrounding areas,” spokesman Nigel Humphries told edie. “People will only cease to use the shortest and most efficient route and further add to pollution. Many commuters have no choice as there are not enough parking spaces provided outside tube stations to leave cars.”

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