London’s Congestion Charge Needs Updating (CityLab)

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After 15 years of existence, London’s method of congestion charging is dated. It needs to be bigger, longer, and greedier.
By Reconnections’ Nicole Badstuber

London’s congestion charge turned 15 in February and it is showing its age. When the charge was introduced, no one foresaw the rapid proliferation of private hire vehicles like Uber. From 2013 to 2017, private hire vehicle registrations soared by over 75 percent: These cars are exempt from paying the congestion charge. A new approach to road pricing is needed to address the changes in the way people and vehicles move around the city and to generate much-needed funds for London’s transport system.

Introduced in 2003, London’s congestion charge is a simple system: a daily charge of approximately $16.20 for entering the 13-mile square congestion charging zone between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Registered disabled people can travel for free, while congestion zone residents pay ten percent of the fee to enter the zone during those times.

By many important measures, the charge has been a success: The number of vehicles driving into Central London is a quarter lower than a decade ago. The charge has been particularly successful at deterring personal use cars from entering Central London: the number of private cars entering the zone fell 39 percent between 2002 and 2014.

Yet, competition for space on London’s streets remains high. While the congestion charge discouraged some drivers, the number of private hire vehicles is up. With private hire vehicles exempt from paying the congestion charge, this leaves London without an effective means of managing the numbers of them on the capital’s roads on weekdays. And London’s busy roads also reflect lifestyle changes: data shows that people make fewer personal transit trips, and there are more deliveries and more cab rides.

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Written by Nicole Badstuber