Congestion Charging one year on: "The sky did not fall on London's head"

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 18 February 2004

Yesterday it was the first anniversary of the Congestion Charge arriving in London.

The Evening Standard published a news piece that quoted the Mayor's research that the first 11 months Congestion Charging have:

  • Cut delays by 30 per cent
  • Reduced the number of cars entering the zone by 30 per cent
  • Slashed [the Evening Standard's word not mine] delays by 60 per cent on buses serving the zone
  • Seen 110,000 a day pay the charge
  • Resulted in only "some small changes" to orbital traffic around the zone

They also quoted a TfL survey that showed that 12 per cent of businesses felt it had impacted on their performance, and that this rate was higher for retail operations at 20%. That is worrying, I used to work in retail in the West End and know how slim the margins are. The benefits though seem to be becoming clear to see.

Not to Amanda Platell though. In her column in the Evening Standard last night she led with:

"Today is the first anniversary of the introduction of Ken Livingston's congestion charge, a year to the day since I started falling out of love with London.

One year since I stopped going into London to meet friends for lunch or an evening drink; one year since I stopped popping into Marylebone High Street for a spot of retail therapy, or Bond Street or Oxford Street for that matter; one year since I started my clandestine affair with Brent Cross

You see, Ken, it worked - you've forced those of us who don't like your stinking overcrowded Tubes, and who don't live near a bus route, out of London."

Well for every cloud there is a silver lining. A year ago if I wanted to get from Bush House to the BBC office at Marylebone High Street I used to have to:

  • eat my lunch on the move if the journey was anywhere between 12 and 2 so as to make sure I got all my work done.
  • allow 45 minutes working time to walk between offices.
  • or leave my office 15 minutes before the meeting, get a taxi, and break Greg's edict on using taxis between BBC buildings in London.

Now I just get two reliable buses and it takes 20 minutes. Amanda's headline was "Ken has ruined my city with his charge". Well unlike Amanda I don't consider London my city, I consider it our city. And I think collectively we are on the whole all better off.

Amanda's piece was in marked contrast to an opinion piece in The Times yesterday, from Christian Wolmar urging that the Congestion Charge be raised to £10 and extended in range.

"Remember all that fuss last year about the congestion charge? London's streets were going to grind to a halt and the public transport system was going to seize up."

Wolmar goes on to write:

"London has become a better place to be in. As I wrote last year: 'If Ken Livingston is successful in reducing congestion even by the predicted 10 or 15 per cent, it will have done everyone in the capital a favour and will make Britain a world leader in at least one respect, a rare event these days.'"

The column talks about individual sob stories - and this site is no stranger to having complaints about the enforcement of the charge in its 'comments' - but humourously points out

"the woman on local TV yesterday who, worried about a possible expansion of the scheme, said that every time she drives to the gym she would have to pay £5"

Credit though to the Evening Standard for also publishing a commentary piece by David Begg, Chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport . He quotes the (unsourced in print) statistics that:

"congestion is still down by a third, traffic speeds are 10 per cent faster, and 65,000 fewer cars a day are clogging up the city centre."

The best point he makes though is one that I don't think we can yet demonstrate with statistics based on the experience of London, but one that ultimately the UK will have to face up to:

"with numbers of cars on the road still rising, being driven further and no space to build more roads or car parks in our city centres, how else are we going to stop our nation driving to a standstill?"

1 Comment

Couldn't have put it better myself.

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