Ten years of the Congestion Charge: Fewer cars, less pollution and a positive impact on business

Ten years ago this month the Congestion Charge was introduced in London by Mayor Ken Livingstone. It has resulted in fewer cars on the road, less pollution and has had a positive impact on business. What's not to like?

Ten years ago this month the Congestion Charge was introduced in London by Mayor Ken Livingstone.

It’s easy to forget today when it is such an established part of the capital’s scenery, but in 2003 the idea of charging car users to drive around the capital was met with near-apocalyptic warnings from motoring groups and the Right-wing press.

The £5 charge would “destroy” the city’s commercial heart and cause “total gridlock“, warned some.

It would “cause misery to thousands of commuters across the capital”, said Conservative Greater London Authority’s transport spokesman Angie Bray at the time.

“Livingstone has ensured Londoners will suffer conditions worse than cattle trucks on their morning commute into work,” she added.

Since it was introduced in 2003, however, the charge – which is now £10 – has not caused gridlock, but rather has resulted in a gradual reduction in traffic levels, as the graph below shows.

Congestion charge

On 23 October 2003 TfL published a report surveying the first six months of the charge. The main findings were that, on average, the number of cars entering the central zone was 60,000 fewer than the previous year, representing a drop in non-exempt vehicles of 30%.

The charge also had an immediate environmental impact, with Transport for London recording falling particulate levels within the original congestion charge area and along the Inner Ring Road boundary zone. Nitrous Oxide (NOx) fell 13.4% between 2002 and 2003, and there were similar falls for Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Particulate Matter (PM10).

It is on the back of these sorts of figures that other cities have sought to emulate London. Stockholm has now introduced a congestion charge and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been trying in vain to introduce one since 2006 in the face of powerful opposition from motoring groups.

A congestion charge is also being considered in Delhi; and Singapore and Oslo already have toll systems similar to London which pre-date our own Congestion Charge.

In terms of the effect the charge had on local businesses, despite the scaremongering which accompanied its introduction, the Fourth Annual Review by TfL in 2004 found that business activity within the charge zone had been higher in both productivity and profitability since the charge was introduced, and that the charge had a “broadly neutral impact” on the wider London economy.

Of course, the predictable motoring interest groups still oppose the Charge, but even their own polls show it’s broadly supported by a majority of Londoners, with 45% for and 41% against.

The success of the idea, which emanated from the office of Ken Livingstone at a time when he had been abandoned by the Labour Party, is confirmed by the fact that even the Tories now back the measure.

One might even say that the Congestion Charge was one of the most successful policies of the past 10 years. Fewer cars, less pollution and a positive impact on business. What’s not to like?

9 Responses to “Ten years of the Congestion Charge: Fewer cars, less pollution and a positive impact on business”

  1. Newsbot9

    Interaction, perhaps, but “globalisation” has all sort of connotations which I don’t necessarily agree with in this context.

    And technically speaking you’ve never been immune to tax on internet-bought imports. Customs does routinely make people pay it too.

    Well, VAT isn’t paid directly in the EU. And while there are lower collection limits for non-EU countries, the volume there is small compared to the massive volume of the now-closed channel islands loophole.

  2. JanCosgrove1945

    The next Labour Govt needs to commit to this idea – on grounds of protecting children’s health if nothing else.

    They might also consider:

    – legislation to reward Councils who designate Play Streets – daily basis, not once a bloody month if the neighbours don’t mind as we are seeing; right of streets to petition for play streets with supposition of acceptance based on criteria; parking in residential streets all to be paid for BUT so that residents can allow others to park in their rented space when they are not using them and charges earned to be deducted from their charges; see Fair Play for Children’s online report ‘Stolen Streets, Stolen Childhood’.

    – more commonwealth of bikes schemes;

    – extend bus passes to local rail;

    – encourage local councils to band together to create PTAs tailored to their local needs – include TAXIS in the schemes, so they can be subsidised (from local tax), also shared taxi use – this would aim to reduce people’s travel costs, and create local employment – premium on efficient, non-polluting taxis;

    – all councils to be mandated to carry out parking audits – existing and potential off-road, on-road, private domestic and commercial – we HAVE to know what is available and what could be available so that we can plan ahead.

  3. Brendan

    I am fed up with all the supposition and imposition that wealthy politicians and decision makers put on the working class. I am struggling to keep my head above water, like so many other working class people and to assume that I can just go out and ‘upgrade or replace’ my 27 year old VW when I cannot even get credit because of the debts I have incurred over the last three years due to long term ill health, is patronising and ridiculous. The reality is that I will probably still be paying off my debts until next year but my bad credit rating will remain with me so, should my VW die on me I will have to replace it with another old vehicle that I can afford to buy outright. I would not be in this position if I had been living in rented accommodation at the time of my illness, as I would have all my rent paid for me by the housing benefit and so, yet again, I have suffered as a result of being a working class homeowner. I regularly have to drive into Westminster for work and also to take my disabled mother into see her specialist, so maybe they will give ‘dispensation’ to blue badge holders, who knows? They don’t make that proposal yet!
    I note that residents living in the wealthy areas of the proposed emission free zone, don’t have to pay a daily charge until 2023. Ha! No expectation on them to upgrade or replace their vehicles within 3 years then? And poor taxi drivers who may just recently have re-mortgaged or taken out loans to buy an extremely expensive black cab because they may have to replace or upgrade it in 3 years time while they are still paying it off OR pay enormous daily fine!

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