London congestion charge
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The London congestion charge is a fee for some motorists entering the Central London area. As of 2006 it is the largest city to have adopted a congestion charge model. The organisation responsible for the charge is Transport for London (TfL). The fee was introduced on 17 February 2003<ref>Beard, Matthew. "Livingstone predicts 'difficult few days' as congestion charge begins", The Independent, 2003-02-17. Retrieved on 2006-04-09.</ref>. Initially set at £5, then raised on 4 July 2005 to £8 <ref>"Congestion charge increases to £8", BBC News, 2005-04-01. Retrieved on 2006-05-25.</ref>, the daily charge must be paid by the registered keeper of a vehicle that enters, leaves or moves around within the congestion charge zone between 7am and 6.30pm, Monday to Friday. Failure to pay the charge means a fine of at least £50.
In September 2005, the western expansion of the congestion charge was confirmed, and it will come into effect in February 2007.
 The charging zone
The present boundary of the zone is sometimes referred to as the London Inner Ring Road. Starting at the northernmost point and moving clockwise, the major roads defining the boundary are Pentonville Road, City Road, Old Street, Commercial Street, Mansell Street, Tower Bridge Road, New Kent Road, Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall Bridge Road, Park Lane, Edgware Road, Marylebone Road and Euston Road (other roads fill the small gaps between these roads). The zone therefore includes the whole of the City of London, the city's financial district, and the West End, the city's primary commercial and entertainment centre. There are also 136,000 residents living within the zone (of a total population of around 7,000,000 in Greater London), though the zone is primarily thought of (and zoned) as commercial rather than residential. There is little heavy industry within the zone. Drivers do not need to pay to use roads on the boundary. Over the Christmas and New Year period of 2002 markings were painted on all roads entering the zone to warn drivers of their need to pay the charge.
 Technology and enforcement
230 CCTV cameras record video of the zone. There are also a number of mobile camera units which may be deployed anywhere in the zone. The majority of vehicles within the zone are captured on camera. Although this is not infallible, it needs to have only a reasonable probability of success to work. Both front and back number plates are captured on cars going both in and out of the zone. This gives four chances of capturing the number plates of a car.
The level of accuracy of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, and subsequent problems resulting from sending fines to the wrong vehicle if the number plate is misread by the computer, mean that pictures of offending vehicles are checked visually by Capita staff. This is why it takes 48 hours for fines to be issued and contributes to the cost (circa £98m per annum) of running the scheme.
This list is then compared with a list of cars whose owners/operators have paid to enter the zone. Those that have paid but are not been seen in the central zone are not refunded, and those that have not paid and are seen are fined. The registered owner of such a vehicle is looked up in a database provided by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), based in Swansea. The fine is £100, reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days, but increased to £150 if unpaid after 28 days.
While private drivers are obliged to pay the charge on the day they enter the zone (or earlier) whether they are seen to enter the zone or not, the same does not apply to fleets of business vehicles. A business can register a group of cars with TfL, and is charged £5 per visit for all vehicles in the fleet detected by the cameras. In May 2005, one enterprising businessman, Miguel Camacho, set up a business, fivepounds.co.uk, whose sole function was to sign up private drivers to their "fleet", thus offering the convenience of not having to pay the charge pro-actively, avoiding fines in the case of a forgotten journey and also potentially getting a "free journey" if undetected by the cameras. Transport for London, 36% of whose charge revenue comes from fines, moved quickly to quash the loophole, by demanding that fleet operators provide V5 logbooks for each vehicle in their fleet. The extra requirement will add to genuine fleets' workload. Fivepounds went out of business on 26 February 2006.<ref>Williams, David. "TfL changes rules to stop C-charge 'fleet' scheme", Evening Standard, 2005-05-09. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref>
ANPR technology is not used for congestion charging anywhere else in the world . Stockholm's congestion charge system, introduced for a sixth-month trial in January 2006, uses a Tag and Beacon system. Used on many European motorways, it consists of a charge card mounted on the windscreen which is 'read' by roadside beacons. Credit is deducted from the card as the car passes the beacon. Stockholm has a variable charging system, which peaks at the rush hours and remains at its lowest between 9.00am and 3.00pm.
TfL started to move towards the Tag and Beacon system barely 18 months after the charge went live. Contracts for new generation ANPR cameras were signed in the summer of 2004 and testing of the roadside beacons started in 2005. Officially TfL would not commit itself (as of mid-2006) to switching to Tag and Beacon. With Tag and Beacon, drivers don't have to remember to pay - the charge is deducted automatically, leading to a reduction in administrative costs, but also a reduction in fines.
Some vehicles such as buses, minibuses (over a certain size), taxis, emergency service vehicles (i.e. ambulances, fire engines and police vehicles), motorcycles, alternative fuel vehicles and bicycles are exempt from the charge. Technically, some of the exemptions are 100% discounts and still require registration. In the case of Hybrid vehicles, the registration fee exceeds the congestion charge for occasional visitors and requires considerable supporting documentation which is not included when the car is purchased. Residents of the zone are eligible for a 90% discount if they pay the charge for a week or more at once.
In 2005 it was revealed that several London embassies were not paying the charge as they believed it to be a tax, which they are protected from paying under the Vienna Convention<ref>"Road toll leads to diplomatic row", BBC News, 2005-10-18. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref>. Although some embassies have agreed to pay the charge <ref>"Embassy to pay congestion charge", BBC News, 2006-04-06. Retrieved on 2006-05-25.</ref>, the US embassy currently (14 May, 2006) owes £270,000 (approximately $500,000) in fines for non-payment, they do however, pay tolls in Oslo and Singapore<ref> "Embassy road toll row continues", BBC News, 2006-05-14. Retrieved on 2006-05-25.</ref>.
 Why the congestion charge is notable
The congestion plan has attracted a lot of attention for several reasons. It was the first large-scale congestion charge scheme to be introduced in the UK (a much smaller £2 scheme had been running in Durham since 2002). Other cities around the world, which judge the scheme to be successful, are likely to follow suit. The plan relies on advanced technology. Drivers may pay the charge on the Web, by SMS text message, in shops equipped with a PayPoint, or by phone. The initial cost of setting up the scheme was £200m, with an annual operating cost of about £115m<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> , and is expected to pay for itself within three years.
The whole idea has been heavily criticised by some opponents. They argue that the public transport network has insufficient spare capacity to cater for travellers deterred from using their cars in the area by the charge. Further, it is said the scheme will hit poorer sections of society more than the rich, as the charge to enter the zone is a flat £8 for all, regardless of vehicle size. To balance this, however, it has been pointed out that there is no free non-residents' parking available within the zone during the charging period.
TfL contracted Capita Group to implement the scheme. Subcontractors include Mastek Ltd, based in Mumbai, India, who are responsible for much of the IT infrastructure. They claim that it is the largest project to date implemented using Microsoft's .NET platform. Due to the wide spread around the globe of sub-contractors and because some data protection regulations vary from country to country, the scheme has prompted concerns about privacy from technology specialists.<ref>Lettice, John. "The London charge zone, the DP Act, and MS .NET", The Register, 2003-02-21. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref>
 The congestion charge in operation
Before the charge's introduction, there were fears of a very chaotic few days as the charge bedded down. Indeed Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London and key proponent of the charge, himself predicted a "bloody day". In fact, the first two days saw a dramatic reduction in inner city traffic. On the first day 190,000 vehicles moved into or within the zone during charging hours, a decrease of around 25% on normal traffic levels. Excluding 45,000 exempt vehicles, the decrease was more than 30%. Anecdotal evidence suggests journey times were decreased by as much as half. Just over 100,000 motorists paid the charge personally, 15–20,000 were fleet vehicles paying under fleet arrangements, and it is believed around 10,000 liable motorists did not pay the due charge. An extra 300 buses (out of a total of around 20,000) were introduced on the same day. Bus and London Underground managers reported that buses and tubes were little, if at all, busier than normal.
Initially it was believed that the reduction in traffic was caused by the half-term school holidays, but this has proved not to be the case. Reports consistently indicate that, over the first month or so of operation, traffic was down at least 15% on pre-charge levels (the first week had a decrease of 20%). Journey times have correspondingly crept back towards pre-charge levels, following initial reported time-savings of as much as 50%. Although very precise statistics are less readily available than just after the charge's introduction, chiefly because media attention is now directed elsewhere, the general feeling was that the charge was having the intended effect.
On 23 October 2003 TfL published a report surveying the first six months of the charge.<ref> Congestion charging 6 months on. Transport for London. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref> The main findings of the report were that on average the number of cars entering the central zone was 60,000 fewer than the previous year, representing a drop in non-exempt vehicles of 30%. Around 50–60% of this reduction was attributed to transfers to public transport, 20–30% to journeys avoiding the zone, and the remainder to car-sharing, reduced number of journeys, more travelling outside the hours of operation, and increased use of motorbikes and cycles. Journey times were found to have been reduced by 15%. Variation in journey time for a particular route repeated on many occasions also decreased.
The report said that the charge was responsible for only a small fraction of the drop in retail sales. In August 2003, the John Lewis Partnership had announced that in the first six months of the charge's operation, sales at their Oxford Street store fell by 8% whilst sales at other stores in the Greater London area but outside the congestion charge zone, such as in Kingston, rose. TfL said that only around 0.5% of the drop was attributable to the charge. The organisation said that London is suffering from a long-term failure to modernise its transport and other infrastructure, and that the charge will in the long term be a benefit.
The report also stated that around 100,000 penalty fines are issued in each month. Around 2,000 are appealed against. The larger than anticipated reduction in traffic numbers meant that TfL revenue would be only £68m — well below the £200m per year expected by TfL's first projections in 2001. In practice, once the extensive roadworks undertaken in London during 2001-2002 were lifted in November of that year, TfL found traffic levels had dropped noticeably, and the profit projection was lowered to £130m per year. Once the charge came live in February 2003, traffic levels dipped again, hence the much lower revenue than expected. The report says that the charge appears to have no impact, either positive or negative, on road safety — the slow trend towards fewer accidents has continued.
A further report published by TfL in October 2004 stated that only seven of the 13 government aims for London transport would be met by 2010. The target on reducing congestion will not be met, the report said, suggesting a failure of the congestion charge policy.<ref>"Road toll 'fails to cut traffic'", BBC News, 2004-10-27. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref> However, that report refers to London as a whole; the failure to reduce congestion overall is mostly attributable to the sprawling suburbs, where it is much more difficult to provide a comprehensive public transport network and the car has a much higher share of journeys.
 Criticisms of the charge
Several shops and businesses have been heavily impacted by the cost of the charge, both in terms of lost sales and increased delivery costs as recognised by the London Chamber of Commerce. There have also been news stories suggesting the levels of congestion will soon return to pre-congestion charge levels and many people have argued that instead of increasing costs to motorists, public transport should be priced more competitively.
The Congestion Charge has proved controversial in Outer London, where it has encouraged commuters who previously drove into central London to instead park at suburban railway or underground stations. This has led to the widespread imposition of controlled parking zones in these areas, at the expense of local residents. Some studies suggest that congestion-charging simply leads to the export of congestion (and jobs) from inner cities to suburbs .
 History of the charge
Many toll roads and bridges exist in England, both now and in the past. Tolls became common in England in the late 1600s, following the decline of roads after the Protestant Reformation (Catholic monks no longer maintained the roads). By the end of the 1700s, the inter-city road network in England was primarily a toll road network of turnpikes. Toll roads eventually died out in the late 1800s, due to competition from railways, gross inefficiency, and complaints from users making longer trips (thus needing to pay more tolls). General road tolls have also been advocated by many others in the past, such as the 18th century economist Adam Smith.
Schemes similar to the current congestion charge have been under consideration by the British Government since the early 1960s. The Smeed Report of 1964 first assessed the practicality of road pricing in a British city. During the early years of the Greater London Council the first plans were drawn up for a system of cordon charging or supplementary licensing for use in the central area. A formal study was undertaken into the merits of the scheme, and in 1973 concluded that it would improve traffic and environmental conditions in the centre. However the newly elected Labour council rejected the study's findings in favour of greater investment in public transport, and road charging was taken off the agenda.
The idea nevertheless persisted and gained renewed support in the mid-1990s. The London Congestion Research Programme concluded in July 1995 that the city's economy would benefit from such a scheme.<ref>HMSO (1995). The London Congestion Research Programme. HMSO. ISBN 0-11-551755-3.</ref> The power to introduce a form of congestion charge was given to any future mayor in the Greater London Authority Act of 1999. Having won the first mayoral election in 2000, Livingstone opted to exercise these powers as promised in his independent manifesto, and carried out a series of consultations with interested parties. The basic scheme was agreed in February 2002, and charging commenced, with some concessions accepted, on 17 February 2003.
 Future plans
In the aftermaths of the introduction of the charge, there were a number of suggestions for its future. Soon after charging commenced, Livingstone announced that he would carry out a formal review of the charge's success or failure six months after its introduction — brought forward from one year, following the smooth start. On 25 February 2003 Livingstone stated "I can't conceive of any circumstances in the foreseeable future where we would want to change the charge, although perhaps ten years down the line it may be necessary" referring to the amount that drivers have to pay, indicating that £5 was sufficient to bring about the reduction in traffic that he had hoped for.<ref>"'No increase' in congestion charge", BBC News, 2003-02-25. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref>. By November 2004, Livingstone directly contradicted his earlier stance and said in an interview with BBC London "I have always said that during this term [his second term in office] it will go up to at least £6."<ref>"Road toll up by 'at least £1'.", BBC News, 2004-11-01. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref> By the end of the month, Livingstone had changed tack again, saying in an announcement that in fact the rise would be to £8 for private vehicles and £7 for commercial traffic. Business groups such as London First were furious at the announcement, saying they were "totally unsatisfactory and unacceptable".<ref>Blitz, Roger. "Congestion charge rise to £8 planned by London mayor", Financial Times, 2004-12-01. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref> <ref>"Congestion charge may rise to £8", BBC News, 2004-11-30. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref> The rise to £8 was announced formally on 1 April 2005, along with discounts for drivers buying month or year-long tickets.<ref>Greater London Authority (2005-04-01). Congestion charge to increase to £8; fleet and regular users to receive discounts. Press release.</ref> <ref>"Congestion charge increases to £8", BBC News, 2005-04-01. Retrieved on 2006-04-08.</ref>. On 10th May 2006, on a live TV debate, Livingstone supported a rise in the charge to £10 by 2008.
Soon after the introduction of the charge, newspapers began to speculate that the extension of the congestion charging zone would form part of Livingstone's manifesto for re-election as mayor (under the Labour Party banner) in 2004. Sure enough, in February 2004, TfL issued a consultation document<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> on the expansion of the zone to the west, including a map of the enlarged zone<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> that would cover the rest (western portion) of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Following Livingstone's re-election in the June 2004 mayoral race, in August 2004 the results of the consultation were published. A substantial majority of respondents did not want the extension, but Livingstone said that the consultation "was not representative" and that the extension would go ahead anyway. Critics of Livingstone said that this was proof that the consultation had been a "useless rubber-stamping exercise" that Livingstone had to go through merely to avoid possible legal challenges to the scheme in the future.
In May 2005 TfL announced a further consultation period with specific proposals about the extensions. These included a plan to reduce the operating hours of the charge by half-an-hour to "boost trade at London's theatres, restaurants and cinemas".<ref>Transport for London. Public Consultation on detail of proposed extension to congestion charging zone begins. Press release.</ref> <ref>"Charge zone times could shorten", BBC News, 2005-05-09. Retrieved on 2005-10-11.</ref> At the end of September 2005, London Mayor Ken Livingstone confirmed the western expansion of the congestion charge, to come into effect on 19th February 2007.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> <ref>Webster, Ben. "Livingstone takes charge zone farther west despite opposition", The Times, 2005-10-01. Retrieved on 2006-04-09.</ref>
The new zone will be double the size, covering areas such as Kensington, Chelsea and the western part of Westminster. The Mayor admitted that this will increase traffic within the existing zone, due to the 230,000 residents that will find themselves living in the zone, and therefore with a discounted charge. Opposition is overwhelming to the expansion, with a significant majority of those responding to two public consultations, opposing the ban. This included businesses which say they are already struggling with sales: the heart of London shopping at Oxford Street is already within the original zone.
Steven Norris, the Conservative Party candidate for mayor in 2004, has been a fierce critic of the charge, branding it the 'Kengestion' charge, and pledged to scrap it if he became mayor in June 2004. He had also pledged that, if elected, he would grant an amnesty to anyone with an outstanding fine for non-payment of the charge on 11 June 2004. In an interview with London's Evening Standard newspaper on February 5, 2004, Conservative leader Michael Howard backed his candidate's view by saying "[the charge] has undoubtedly had a damaging effect on business in London."<ref>Murphy, Joe. "Howard: C-charge damages business", Evening Standard, 2004-02-05. Retrieved on 2005-10-11.</ref> Liberal Democrat candidate, Simon Hughes however supported the basic principles of the scheme. Amongst some of the changes he proposed included changing the end time from 6.30pm to 5pm; automatically giving all vehicles 5 free days a year so as not to affect occasional visitors. It is extremely unlikely these proposed changes will happen, following Livingstone's second mayoral victory.
As of late 2006, there are talks of introducing a variable congestion charge. Similarly to vehicle tax, it would be based on emissions of carbon dioxide in grams/km. This would reduce or eliminate the charge for small and fuel-efficient vehicles, and increase it to up to £25 a day for large, inefficient 4x4s (SUVs). Electric zero-emissions vehicles are already exempt from the charge.
 Wider effects
Further afield, many other cities around the world already using congestion charging zones include Oslo, Stockholm, Bergen, Trondheim and Singapore — the first city to do so, in 1998.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> The success of the scheme in reducing the number of cars on the road caused some, such as the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-wing think tank, to call for similar schemes to be rolled out across the country.<ref>"UK congestion charge proposed", BBC News, 2003-10-14. Retrieved on 2005-10-11.</ref> However, in November 2003, Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling said that despite apparent initial sparks of interest from many city councils, including those of Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol, no city apart from Edinburgh had yet approached the Government for assistance in introducing a charge. The situation is likely to change once the bids for "pump-priming" funding from the Transport Innovation Fund (England only) are announced in November 2005. It seems unlikely that Edinburgh will introduce a scheme anytime soon, after a postal referendum showed that almost 75% of voters in Edinburgh opposed congestion charging.<ref>"Edinburgh rejects congestion plan", BBC News, 2005-02-22. Retrieved on 2005-10-11.</ref> Unlike in London, where Ken Livingstone had sufficient devolved powers to introduce the charge on his own authority, other cities would require the confirmation of the Secretary of State for Transport under the Transport Act 2000. In the East Midlands the three major cities of Nottingham, Derby and Leicester could possible all implement a trial run at the same time. This is an attempt to lower traffic not just in a city but the entire region. Cities in other countries have also been monitoring the scheme. For example, city councillors in Queens and Brooklyn cited a report from the London Chamber of Commerce that claimed the charge hurt business to pre-emptively dissuade New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg from introducing a similar scheme.<ref>"NY resistant to congestion charge", BBC News, 2003-08-14. Retrieved on 2005-10-11.</ref>
 External links
- Transport for London's congestion charge homepage
- BBC London's congestion charge page
- National Alliance Against Tolls congestion charge page
- Association of British Drivers' congestion charge factsheet
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