London Congestion Charging
February 17, 2003 2:25 AM   Subscribe

Conjestion charging hits london £5 to take a car into the central zone (pdf) between 7am and 6.30pm Mon - Fri. It's all the work of controversial mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone Opinion is split: for and against. A small majority of Londoners seem in favour of it - traffic in London now is as slow as the days of the horse and cart! Day one seems quiet, though it is the school holidays! Is this the answer?
posted by brettski (39 comments total)
That should, of course be Congestion!
posted by brettski at 2:26 AM on February 17, 2003

Conjestion: The art of making jokes about criminals.
posted by BigCalm at 2:38 AM on February 17, 2003

A flat fee charging system is so not the answer for congestion/pollution problems. Charging everyone £5 will only hurt the (relatively) poor, for example nurses, firefighters etc who need to use their car to get to work in central London.

Yet the rich, coming into London in their 2 ton BMW 7 series gas guzzlers, an extra £1200 for a years pass is nothing. Their company will most likely pay for it anyway.

How's about
exempt - LPG/electric/hybrid etc
£2 - cars under 1400cc
£5 - cars between 1400 and 2000cc
£10 - cars over 2000cc
£20 - cars over 3000cc
£50 - cars over 4000cc

Now that will make a difference!
posted by derbs at 3:20 AM on February 17, 2003

I agree with derbs' proposal in principle, but I'm not sure it's technically feasible or practical.
Maybe giving owners of small cars a rebate on year passes, but that would open up for a lot of possibility for swindling.
posted by spazzm at 3:56 AM on February 17, 2003

I don't see a problem with derbs idea... if you link the system into the DVLA computers then the system can match your registration to your engine size and take suitable steps. OF course, this would involve planning, and we live in a nation where it takes an hour to find out how many people have won this weeks lottery...
posted by twine42 at 4:30 AM on February 17, 2003

derbs, while I see what you're shooting at (and agree in principle) the Mayor's stated intention is simply to reduce congestion, not make moral judgements based on engine size. He succeeds whether it's 10 year old Nissan Micras being regressively priced off the roads just as much as if it's late model BMWs progressively taxed into submission.

Besides, we have the world's most appallingly useless company Capita running this initiative. While something needs to be done, optical character recognition of license plates is not the technology to be used - it should be satellite based. If you fancy a bit of a punt, William Hill are currently offering 5-1 that the scheme will be scrapped within 12 months of coming online.

But to my mind the single biggest obstacle is the integration of Capita's congestion charging database with that of the DVLA. That alone - without the OCR and online purchasing component - would be an IT project beyond the ability of the British Government to deliver. Evidence? The £4bn NIRS2 debacle and before the Commons Public Accounts Committee today, the Lord Chancellor's Department and Fujitsu's Libra system balls-up.

What we have here is a good and necessary idea being implemented incorrectly. It's going to be a disaster and it's going to set road charging back 10 years because we tried to do it on the cheap with obsolescent technology. How typically British...
posted by dmt at 4:40 AM on February 17, 2003

Or, Crapita as Private Eye like to call them.

The system relies on cameras reading every single registration plate of every vehicle going into London. If traffic crosses the zone perimeter bumper to bumper is it going to be possible to read every plate?

We're yet to see if the system will work at all. The processing required to derive a plate number from a photo image is still pretty hefty - and this is taking place on an unprecidented scale, although admittedly we're yet to see how many people still intend to drive into London.

I agree with the idea of congestion charging in principle. The air in London is pretty poisonous.
posted by nthdegx at 5:04 AM on February 17, 2003

derbs - the poor will always be hit harder by anything that involves payment.

what about the argument that the 'poor' will generally drive older cars which will be less efficient and have worse emmissions?
posted by Frasermoo at 5:07 AM on February 17, 2003

Ken was on Radio 4 this morning. He agreed that it would be better if it were be based on income, but said the technology wasn't yet there. I like derbs idea about linking it to engine size, I hadn't thought about that. The technology is there to do that, motor insurance web sites seem to be able to retrieve information about you car from the DVLA database based on the registration you provide.
Personally I think the concept is the way forward, but I'm not sure it is wise to trial it in London. Sheffield would be a good place to try something like this. It's a relatively small city, with a traffic problem at peak time. I know a number of people that drive just 1 or 2 miles to work rather than walking, and have the balls to bitch about traffic. We've got good public transport here too.
posted by chill at 5:12 AM on February 17, 2003

Of course, the poorest people in central London don't own a car anyway. The profits from congestion charging should go towards improving public transport. An argument could be made that congestion charging is in fact a progressive taxation, for the vast majority of people. Of course, there will always be exceptions.
posted by salmacis at 5:27 AM on February 17, 2003

Charging everyone £5 will only hurt the (relatively) poor, for example nurses, firefighters etc who need to use their car to get to work in central London.

Nobody needs to use a car to get to work in Central London. Nobody needs to use a car to get into the center of any major city. It's strictly a matter of convenience-- one drives into a large city either because they're running a very quick errand or they're too good to rub elbows with the plebes who take busses and subways. Either way, £5 seems like a pretty reasonable toll.

There's another London traffic problem that bears addressing, too. I have never visited any other city where motorists' disregard or even contempt for pedestrians runs as high as London. Some action needs to be taken to discipline motorists who disregard pedestrian right-of-way, because it makes one of the best cities in the world a lot less fun to visit. Start with the motorbike messengers.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:31 AM on February 17, 2003

Crapita is obviously a major concern, but as someone who is heartily sick of sitting for hours in traffic I'm cautiously optimistic.

So far (lunchtime) everything seems to be going well. No jams, either inside or outside the zone. There are problems with the scheme, but hopefully these can be ironed out over the next few months.
posted by ciderwoman at 5:39 AM on February 17, 2003

Mayor Curley: What, you've never visited Rome?
posted by salmacis at 5:52 AM on February 17, 2003

dmt - yeah i read about Capita in the Times over the weekend. They really do appear to be a bunch of cowboys. There surely must be some backhander scam going on somewhere.

Maybe i'll pop down William Hill with a tenner after work :)

I know LPG and electric cars are exempt now, but how does Capita know this? Do they use the DVLA database, or do people who drive these cars have to apply to Capita beforehand? If it is automatically done via the DVLA database, then it would only be a small step to discover what engine size your car is, as this info is already stored in there.

Frasermoo: BMW 7 series and the majority of modern cars are very 'clean' in terms of EU emissions. However they still drink petrol at an alarming rate. We need to hit these cars hard and provide a real incentive for people to drive smaller and greener cars.

Oh, and Major Curley: i was in Marseille last summer. At least London drivers actually obey traffic lights!
posted by derbs at 6:23 AM on February 17, 2003

Manhattan basically has the same thing, from the NJ side. $6 toll to cross the bridges. Does it reduce the congestion?
posted by smackfu at 6:25 AM on February 17, 2003

If traffic crosses the zone perimeter bumper to bumper is it going to be possible to read every plate?

Nope. But you can't stay bumper to bumper throught the whole of London and when you don't, another camera will more than likely spot you. If you get away with it, congratulations - but I don't think it's something that you could do on a long term basis.
posted by ralawrence at 6:33 AM on February 17, 2003

Mayor Curley: Or Paris. Or NYC. Or San Fran for that matter. Or Bangkok. Or Denpasar. But you're is a big problem.

I lived in London for 11 years & congestion/pollution was the main reason for leaving. I also used to drive for a living in London many years ago but gave it up due to the hellish traffic.

I was being driven in London a couple of Sundays ago. The 1.5 mile journey from Brompton Oratory (just west of Harrods) to just behind The Ritz (ooo, the rarefied circles I move in) took AN HOUR!

Ol' Ken has done what most politicians are shit-scared of doing - something neccessary that could lose him votes. Good luck to him.
posted by i_cola at 6:38 AM on February 17, 2003

The thing about driving bumper-to-bumper is that the first you'll know about not getting away with it is when the £80 penalty fee for non payment turns up. You need to get away with it a lot more times than you don't for that to work - plus they have people with handheld devices and cameras in vans (like in some busses for bus lane fines) to spot people who the perimeter cameras missed.
posted by brettski at 7:08 AM on February 17, 2003

I wish they would put something like this in place in our (small) city. The city and county have spent millions on three or four parking decks (this in a city of about 75,000), and people still whine about not being able to find parking, when three blocks from the city center there is free street parking as far as the eye can see which is never full. If you are too lazy to walk three blocks, you deserve to pay somebody something. In any city that is walkable/has public transit, there is no need for cars, period.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:19 AM on February 17, 2003

I think we should just charge people on school runs *ANYWHERE* in London 10 pounds per journey and use the revenue to provision a free to use school bus system. Some estimates put the 'school run' at 13% of peak time traffic. (Of course I know this is impractical)

Good or bad at least *something* is being tried and bravo! for it. However the biggest failing of this system is the lack of adequate public transport (mainly meaning capacity on the metro system) ~ should have been sorted a long time ago.

Can you believe that in one of the important cities in the world, today, we have the situation where somebody like me who lives 6 miles south of a centrally based office decides to work at home because the 50+ minute each way journey by public transport is too time consuming and stressful (and smelly) to be practical!?

btw I did switch to a motorcycle/pedal power but this is only practical on rare warm/dry days - turning up for meetings looking like a drowned rat didn't go down too well.
posted by keno at 7:24 AM on February 17, 2003

How's about
exempt - LPG/electric/hybrid etc

They are exempt. There's a list of exemptions as long as your arm. Alternative fuel cars, disabled drivers, scooters and motorbikes, those living within the zone.

This definitely doesn't tax the poor, as the poor don't drive cars in London - its far too expensive even without congestion charging. Plus, London is one of the few cities in the UK where you can feasibly get around without a car. I've lived in London for 4 years, and I can't see any circumstances where I'd drive a car.
posted by influx at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2003

Bloody good point about school runs, keno. Especially because there seem to be more off-road vehicles involved than actual children.
posted by walrus at 7:49 AM on February 17, 2003

smackfu raises a good point but there are significant differences -
a) The residential population of manhattan is many times higher than the population in the areas of London included in the congestion area:
London 'C' zone residents = 250,000
Overall London pop = 9 million.
Manhattan residence = 1,7 Million
New York Pop = 9 Million
So much of the Manhattan congestion is caused by intra-manhatten traffic Unlike London where:

b) In London an estimated 4 million people travel daily into the central district during the business day (by public transport and car) = 1/3 of the population of the residential population of London

I'd like to get stats on bridge/tunnel utilisation in NY .. anyone got any links?
posted by keno at 7:50 AM on February 17, 2003

correction: wanted to make the above point less deterministic: "Manhattan congestion may be caused by intra-manhattan"..
posted by keno at 7:55 AM on February 17, 2003

I would argue that the drivers in Paris, NYC and San Francisco are more courteous to pedestrians. My sample sizes aren't even-- I've spent more time in London than even next-door New York (which I loathe for reasons unrelated to traffic).

Parisians, I've found, are surprisingly accomodating to peds despite the fact that the city is choked with cars. Paris even seems relatively easy to bike in.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:57 AM on February 17, 2003

oh and while I'm ranting... Why the HELL do the traffic lights have to be on 24 hours a day?! why not flashing amber after 23:30 to 05:30 or similar .

Found a new lady friend recently that is unfortunate enough to live in North London (poor girl) anyway last night @ 02:00 it took me 1,15 hours to get from Islington to Clapham (6-7 miles) BY CAR!!!!! and the streets where empty!!!

ggrrr! where is the Mayors' phone number....
posted by keno at 8:02 AM on February 17, 2003

Hey, leave north London alone!

And if you will live south of the river...
posted by ciderwoman at 8:16 AM on February 17, 2003

I think we should just charge people on school runs *ANYWHERE* in London 10 pounds per journey and use the revenue to provision a free to use school bus system.

The school systems in London don't have school buses? Is that a UK thing or a London thing?

Either way, that's the weirdest thing I've heard in weeks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:45 AM on February 17, 2003

The school systems in London don't have school buses? Is that a UK thing or a London thing?
It's a UK thing.
posted by chill at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2003

Small majority?
posted by swift at 8:59 AM on February 17, 2003

There's a serious possiblity of putting tolls on the East River Bridges in NYC, to which I say AMEN.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:19 AM on February 17, 2003

I'm pro the principle in London, but I think the execution is flawed. I saw a figure a couple of years ago (can't find a link, sorry) that said at some points during the day, as much as 80% of the traffic on London's streets originates outside the city. That's likely in large part to be people being paid London salaries but living in the cheaper suburbs. I think they should have put the zone border much further out to catch some of them too. As things are at the moment, streets around tube stations outside the central travel zones get clogged up every morning and this may well make that worse. At least if the line was further out that problem might be thinnned.

I also have to recognise the Catch-22 of the situation: Ideally you beef up public transport before embarking on congestion charging, but the money to beef up public transport is going to come from congestion charging.

I'm heartened by the fact that it seems to be getting off to a reasonable start. I think that stuff in some of the papers today giving tips on avoiding the charge is despicable, and I definietly agree with i_cola about Ken having had the balls to do the right, but unpopular thing.

(Sorry, a bit unfocused - I'm trying to get out of the office to join the joys of the Jubilee Line....)
posted by jonpollard at 10:32 AM on February 17, 2003

"I think we should just charge people on school runs *ANYWHERE*... (Of course I know this is impractical)

Maybe digging the deep hole in my garden this pm gave me inspiration ;) - The school run charge can be based on cars displaying those "CHILD ON BOARD: DRIVE CAREFULLY" stickers in their cars/SUV's, they're just advertisements for the drivers fertility anyway (the sign may as well read 'I DON'T FIRE BLANKS" or "GOOD QUALITY EGGS HERE! OH YES SIR")

maybe I should have a lie down...
posted by keno at 10:47 AM on February 17, 2003

What about the Singapore system? ERP and cheap public transport.
posted by ginz at 11:30 AM on February 17, 2003

So you guys in the UK have free-ish medical care, but not school buses? *Everybody* either drives their kids to school or sets them walking or using normal public transit at everyone else's rush hour too?


That's weird. Weirder than deep-fried Mars bars even. Y'all's business, sure, but I just can't wrap my head around that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:30 AM on February 17, 2003

It's a UK thing.

Sorta. Free school buses (or bus passes) are provided to kids who live a certain distance from the school: two or three miles, depending on the age range. Most school catchment areas don't extend beyond that distance, unless they're religious or specialist, or the parents have jemmied their kids into them to avoid the local sink comprehensive. (We're pretty squashed together in most of the UK.) It makes travel during the 'school run' a bugger in the inner suburbs, though. That's why travelling to work is nice in half-term. Like it is now.

And jonpollard's right: get 'em at the M25.
posted by riviera at 11:34 AM on February 17, 2003

The school systems in London don't have school buses? Is that a UK thing or a London thing?

It's a UK thing.

Its a city thing - in the rural areas they have buses.

On topic: I cycle into work so I think congestion charging is excellent news. No more near death experiences with the crazy drivers.
posted by Lleyam at 12:13 PM on February 17, 2003

This is a great idea!

But we need to take it further! All these freeloaders from other towns enjoying London for free, taking from off the good Londoner's taxpaying back and giving nothing in return.

We need to give everyone a national identity card, which they need to place in a reader and be charged for entering every city that isn't theirs. I propose this be done by tattooing a barcode to people's heads instead, that way we can use optical scanners and people wouldn't even have to present a card.

In this way, the pavements/sidewalks of London wouldn't be so crowded with people, and scoundrels/freeloaders would stay out of the city's limits.

This movie would be a great start to the idea. Just take the idea of the fact that pregnant women are a burden on society and expand it to everyone (we have to be PC nowadays!).
posted by shepd at 1:56 PM on February 17, 2003

Central London is very walkable. Even before I knew any nifty shortcuts, I was faster on foot. Why struggle with the tube when you can walk from the National to the Tate via Whitehall, Westminster and the Thames?

I'm not convinced by the "taxing the poor" argument against congestion charging. The C zone is roughly the same as zone 1 on the London Transport system (i.e. the inner most ring). An annual congestion charge payment is GBP1260. For that, you could buy an annual season ticket for London Transport for zones 1-4 (jpg).

The objections seem to mainly come from people who have become addicted to the instant gratification culture of the car. It doesn't matter that their vehicles are blocking the way for emergency services (the London Ambulance Service now includes paramedics on bikes to get around traffic delays) because they want to be able to travel exactly when they want to and in a private bubble.

I dislike the tube in rush hour (especially with the Waterloo & City and Central lines still closed after the crash) but then who doesn't? And I rather doubt I'd make it from Waterloo to the city any faster jammed in traffic... At least on public transport you can read a good book.
posted by anyanka at 3:21 PM on February 17, 2003

« Older Tony Blair: The Case for War   |   Kim Jong's Ill in head Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments