February 01, 2003

World Awaits Results of London Congestion Pricing

Opponents of the congestion pricing system are encouraging drivers to refuse to pay both congestion charges and fines and have planned several protests during the program’s opening day. Others plan to boycott the 150 newsstands and convenience stores where customers can register for congestion charges.

Under the congestion pricing program, motorists who enter an eight square mile area of central London between 7am and 6:30pm will pay a daily fee of ??f5 (about $7). A similar system was implemented Trodheim, Norway ten years ago and Singapore has used congestion pricing since the 1970s. London’s high-profile experience, however, will likely impact other cities’ traffic choices more dramatically than these other existing systems.

Officials from several British cities have said they will pursue a similar congestion pricing program if London’s successfully reduces traffic and raises revenue. Larger cities like New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has floated the idea of placing higher tolls at rush hour on all of the city’s entrances, are also more likely to trust London’s experience as a comparable example.

The charge is being introduced on the first day of a week-long school holiday when traffic and use of public transport are significantly lower, providing some time to iron out problems. Critics have already drawn much attention to the fact that customers were unable to register to pay charges online or through call centers when the payment systems opened in mid-January.

Those who worried that London’s Underground system would not be able to handle an influx of new riders called for congestion pricing to be postponed after a train on the Central London line derailed three weeks ago. Service has still not been fully restored, although ten new bus lines have been added to serve the routes. The Greater London Assembly also recently released a report calling on Livingstone to end the “cattle truck standards” on public transportation.

However, bus services have been improved over the past two years and new lower fares introduced – an advanced purchase saver bus ticket, bought in books of five and usable for a single journey any time is 65 pence – rather than one pound for a full fare in central London. Revenue raised from congestion pricing charges will be directed to further improvements to public transport and development of safe walking and bicycling routes to schools.

Ken Livingstone remains optimistic that the benefits of traffic reductions and increased revenue will win over the program’s skeptics. He has publicly pledged to keep the program in place until his term ends in two years.

“It will be a very bloody first few days,” he told London’s The Times during the unveiling of a new traffic management center last week. “But I have never been more optimistic at any time in the last three years that this is going to work.”

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