Changes are planned for the world's largest congestion charging scheme, including a price increase, expansion and smart vehicle tagging.
London is the world's largest city to introduce a congestion charging scheme, and did so on 17 February 2003. The scheme has been running successfully for two-and-a-half years and has reduced traffic by 15% within the zone, emissions reductions (both carbon and nitrogen dioxides and particulates) and bus delays.
The money raised from congestion charging - around £80m per annum - must, by law, be used to fund transport improvements. Its main application to date has been to improve bus services in and around the charging zone.
However, controversy still remains over the impact of the £8 daily charge (raised in July 2005 from £5) upon businesses.
From September 2006, the standard £8 charge will be payable up to midnight the following day - rather than up to 10pm on the same day as at present.
Plans to expand the congestion charging zone to the west into Kensington & Chelsea have now been approved by the Mayor and will take effect from 19 February 2007.
In January 2005, in Southwark TfL successfully finished its first trial of a new system which uses electronic tags in vehicle windscreens as a method of congestion charge payment.
Under the scheme, drivers might top up their tags with pre-pay (like the Oyster card), and this would be deducted when they entered the congestion charge using a radio transmitter stationed at the entrance to the zone which communicated with the windscreen tag.
The initial trial was highly successful - with a near-100% detection rate - and a new trial begins in December 2005 with about 500 drivers and 20 beacons. The initial trial used only 2 beacons.
The trial was aimed at addressing some of motorists' current issues with the system. The newer technology is more flexible and might allow a variation in the charge under different circumstances - for example, the time the car spends driving inside the zone, or the level of pollution the vehicle is expected to have caused.
The flexibility might also allow a higher charge for large 4x4 vehicles, which the Mayor has proposed in the past but was originally rejected because of technical complications.
This system would not be implented for several years. It would be an intermediate step to the proposed satellite-based congestion charge scheme for the whole country which would absorb the London congestion charge scheme.
From 2010 onwards, a tag-based scheme could be extended to "strategic centres" in other parts of London or to strategic routes like the North Circular.
Bob Kiley, the Commissioner for Transport for London, would like to use this tag system to implement a London-wide road pricing scheme, where busy roads like the North Circular and suburban town centres with traffic problems are charged, at a higher rate than other areas, in the same vein as the national scheme. However, he would like to introduce it much earlier than that scheme - in the next 4-7 years rather than in 10 years. The Mayor is not confident in this, as it would require primary (central government) legislation.
Under such a scheme, vehicles could be charged 10p, 30p or 50p/km to drive in outer, inner or central London respectively. Such a scheme is predicted to reduce traffic levels by 10% and excess delays by 50%. However, such a scheme would need to be part of a national one and could not be implemented before 2015.
The governer of New York state says that they are looking to London as the best available example of congestion charging.
The Mayor has said that he wants a sliding scale of congestion charges depending on the vehicle emissions, with up to a £25 charge for petrol-guzzlers and a low charge for low-emission vehicles. He would like such discounts to be in place by 2008, and a higher tier in place by 2010.
From Monday 19 June, TfL are introducing an option to pay on the following day for travel in the congestion charging zone. Motorists will have the option of paying £8 up to midnight on the same day, or £10 on the next day.
The fourth Annual Monitoring Report for the congestion charging scheme has shown a sustained reduction in traffic, air pollution and accidents and improvement in bus services. Highlights are:
TfL will allow drivers an extra day to pay their congestion charge from 19 June 2006, three months earlier than planned. Whereas the current scheme sees drivers pay £8 up to 10pm on the day or £10 between 10pm and midnight, the new scheme will allow an £8 payment up to midnight at the end of the day, or a £10 payment up to the following midnight.
In December, microwave-based "tag and beacon" technology will be trialled using 500 drivers in Southwark. This technology may replace the current congestion charging technology in the future. It is more flexible and can detect exactly how long a car is inside the charging zone; when this technology is implemented, this might allow lower charges for those spending less time on roads inside the zone. It could also be used to vary charges for differently-polluting vehicles.
An set of congestion charging zones covering the whole area within the M25 is one of several proposals from across the country being submitted to Government as a bid for money from the DfT's £18m Transport Innovations Fund. Other schemes include a scheme submitted by seven local authorities for a West Midlands congestion charge.
The TfL annual report released today shows that congestion is remaining at 30% below what it was before the charging scheme was introduced in central London in 2002. Profits have risen to £97m from £80m in the first year, with these revenues being used to improve bus services. However, the Mayor has approved an increase in the charge to £8 from July, devised to stop congestion increasing again as motorists becoming used to paying the £5 charge.
The suggested charges under a satellite-tracking scheme for congestion charging, proposed for 2015, have been revealed as peak rates of 80p per mile in the centre of London, 48p per mile around that zone as far as the North and South Circulars, and 16p per mile in outer London. Different charges might apply outside the peaks and it local congestion hotspots.
Almost even numbers of drivers are for and against the congestion charge, according to a YouGov poll of 2,000 motorists. 45% of those surveyed expressed support for the charge, with 54% against - in contrast to the national figure of 34% in favour of charges.
Following the announced rise in the congestion charge to £8, Smithfield workers are lobbying TfL to give them the same discount as residents (90%), claiming they are unable to use public transport to reach their work which starts in the early hours of the morning.
A coffin was carried to City Hall on Wednesday morning as a symbol of protest by some businesses and residents in central London against the congestion charge increase from £5 to £8. A 5,000-signature residents' petition was also delivered.
London First has delivered a letter to TfL on behalf of 50 of its business members who oppose the rise in the congestion charge, saying that the current £5 charge is sufficient.
The Commission for Integrated Transport, which advises the government, has suggested that variable charges based on a tag-and-beacon system could be introduced on all roads inside the M25. Charges would vary from £1.30 per mile for the busiest roads such as the North Circular at peak times, to no charges for lightly-used roads. The £3bn raised could be divided up, with £1bn going on running costs, another £1bn funding public transport improvements, and the final £1bn being used to slash London council tax bills in half.
TfL have announced that the congestion charge will increase from £5 to £8 on 4 July, with a discounted £7 charge being introduced for fleet vehicles, 40 free charging days a year for those paying annually and 3 free days for those paying monthly.
TfL Commissioner Bob Kiley's comments on extending congestion charges to suburban centres and busy routes across London using a tag-based system have provoked a backlash from politicians representing suburban areas.
In an interview with The Times, Bob Kiley said that he would like to take the tag-based pilot scheme for new congestion-charging technology and introduce a sophisticated Londonwide system, charging different rates for busy roads at busy times across the city, within the next 4-7 years - preempting a similar satellite-based nationwide scheme by a number of years. However, the Mayor is keen to point out that these are Kiley's own ideas, as such a scheme would require central legislation out of the Mayor's control.
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