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.

congestion chargeIt’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?

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  • Raging Leftie

    It says a lot that the Congestion Charge policy can be named as one of the most successful policies of the last ten years, congestion charges are the future eh? Let’s hope not. Our City and Town Centres have suffered from decreased foot-traffic etc, over the last few years after Councils nation-wide have sought to increase their revenue by increasing charges for drivers to park in the centre of their City/Town. Just imagine what congestion charges could do on top of that.

    over the last few years as the Council have

  • Newsbot9

    Actually, they’re abolishing them in a lot of places. To no effect. Because the driver is, in fact, the rise of the internet.

  • Raging Leftie

    Abolishing what, congestion charges or high streets? High streets suffering at the expense of the internet: a product of globalisation. Should congestion charges pave the way to the future? Its certainly a cheap way to reduce traffic and pollution in the inner cities.

  • Newsbot9

    Ah right, you call internet shopping “globalisation”. Never mind UK retailers. Really, there are more sensible arguments to be made! The real problem there was the Channel Islands VAT hole, which has been closed off.

  • Raging Leftie

    To be sure, I am not disagreeing with you, I boycotted amazon and I understand the implications of the tax loophole, many of which still exist and are being exploited by the likes of Amazon to avoid paying corporation tax. Hopefully the online-sales tax policy in the US will find support, I’m not sure if the UK have a similar scheme in place. On a second point surely the internet is the very engine of globalisation… ?

  • 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.

  • 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.

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