UK: London Mayor Backtracks on Congestion Tax

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper

London, England Mayor Boris Johnson is retreating from his campaign pledge to end the city’s “punishment of motorists.” Johnson’s predecessor, Ken Livingstone, lost his re-election in large measure because Johnson pledged to scale back the £8 (US $13) fee imposed on motorists entering the downtown area. Johnson announced Friday that he will boost the tax to £10 (US $16.40) to shore up Transport for London’s mass transit budget. “The proposed increase in the charge will ensure that the system remains effective in controlling traffic levels in central London, and the revenue will also help us fund the vital improvements to London’s transport network that all Londoners want to see,” Johnson said in a statement.

Transport for London data show that the congestion charge has failed in its stated goal of controlling traffic levels downtown. Documented journey times inside the charging zone in 2007 were the same as in 2002, before the tax was collected, according to a 2008 report. Another, independent study found no reduction in pollution within zone. After accounting for £131 million (US $215 million) in overhead, however, the complicated system did provide transit officials with £137 million (US $225 million) in revenue, which came primarily from late payment penalty tickets.

Johnson’s latest proposal introduces a transponder-based automated credit card payment system designed to significantly reduce the number of penalty tickets issued. Drivers who chose to use the radio frequency tracking device will also save £1 on the tax.

Last month, Johnson reacted strongly to criticism that he has been dragging his feet on his promise to eliminate the congestion charge’s western extension. One of Livingstone’s last moves as mayor was to add the boroughs of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster to the zone in which drivers must pay the £8 fee. Johnson surveyed residents last year of the 28,000 that responded, only 19 percent indicated support for preserving the extension unchanged. Nonetheless, little action has been taken to drop the extension.

“You may have heard the scurrilous rumor that I have reneged on my promise to remove the western extension of the congestion charge,” Johnson wrote on his website. “We have to jump through a number of tedious bureaucratic hoops before the axe can fall, but fall it will. The extended zone will be no more. It will be an ex-zone, the area formerly known as. It will be a dead zone!”


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  • HEATHROI HEATHROI on Oct 20, 2009

    This is why I’ll generally vote for someone who says “Yes, we’re probably going to have to raise taxes and/or cut services. It will suck, but we have to.” rather than “I’ll make everything better and send you a big cheque in the mail”. So you don't vote very often then? :-)

  • BjoernAbelsson BjoernAbelsson on Oct 22, 2009
    Congestion charges work! Anyone who reads the TfL report, or even the article in theNewspaper, will se that the traffic volume in London still is way below what it was before the introduction of CC. That congestion has increased, in spite of lower traffic volumes, depends on the fact that road space has decreased. Partly planned; some road space has been turned from car use to bus lanes or bicycle lanes. Partly unplanned; road works, the building of new houses, sewer reparation works and other things has blocked many roads and thus increased congestion. The idea of alleviating congestion by building new roads is an illusion. The level of congestion mainly depends on the differences in cost and journey times between car transport and public transport. In central London 90 percent of the commuters use public transport or bicycle, only 10 percent go by car. If road space is increased by new roads that extra space will immediately be filled up with public transport passengers that find that they can save an extra minute by choosing the car. So if you want to decrease congestion you have only two options; increase the price difference between car and PT or decrease the journey times for PT. Admittedly this should work the other way round also. So it is a little bit of a mystery that the decrease of road space has not been followed by a further decrease in traffic volume. Probably this is due to the fact that much of the road space decrease is temporary and random and thus difficult for people to adjust to. Björn Abelsson Transportation planner, Sweden
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