London Hikes Congestion Charge to Force More Cars off the Streets
LONDON The cost of driving in central London is going up.
Hoping to drive even more cars off the road, the capital is raising its "congestion charge" to eight pounds (US$14.16, euro11.80) on Monday, up from the previous five pounds (US$8.85, euro7.32). Drivers who pay for a month or more in advance get a 15 percent discount.
Transport for London, the body responsible for the capital's transportation system, says the five pound charge has reduced the number of vehicles on the road by 15 percent, cut accidents and curbed pollution.
For many drivers, its a case of no gain without pain.
"Obviously traffic has eased," said self-employed parcel delivery man Gary Rickwood. "But it's a lot of money just to come into the city and do nothing. It's not like I'm socializing; I'm trying to work."
Rickwood said he works about 49 weeks each year, paying about 1,225 pounds (US$2,168, euro1,800) for a van that he doesn't even own.
"I know why they're doing it, but I'm just trying to earn a living," he said.
Mayor Ken Livingstone, who introduced the congestion charge in February 2002, backed the increase in a continued effort to relieve the crowded roads and encourage commuters toward public transportation.
He has promised there will be no further increases during his remaining three years in office.
The higher charge is expected to boost revenue by more than 35 million pounds (US$62 million, euro51.5 million) per year.
Transport for London is to devote most of the extra money to improving the bus system, which currently carries about 2 million passengers a day.
Livingstone's office says the congestion charge has made London the only city in Britain to achieve a major shift from cars to public transport. He expects the higher charge to reduce road congestion by a further 35 percent.
The 15 percent discount is being introduced "mainly to reduce the hassle of paying the charge," said Alun Shurmer, spokesman for Transport for London. He cited a survey that showed that drivers' biggest frustrations with the fee was that they often forget to pay.
Commuters can pay online, through the mail, by phone or text message and at selected gas stations and garages.
Those who don't pay and are caught by one of the 700 or so cameras enforcing the congestion zone are fined 50 pounds (US$89, euro74) -- or double that if they don't pay within 14 days.
The congestion charge for fleets, or companies who operate at least 25 vehicles in the busy area, will be 7 pounds (US$12.40, euro10.30), 1.50 pounds (US$2.66 euro2.21) more than the previous rate.
London's government is considering expanding the current 22-square-kilometer (8.5-square-mile) congestion area by 75 percent in September.
The charge would remain the same, although annual revenues are forecast to increase by more than 140 million pounds (US$250 million euro206 million).
"If it happens, it will all operate on the same system," Shurmer said. "It will be one big zone, with one payment method."
Source: Associated Press