Transport for London (TfL) implemented the congestion charge scheme on February 17, 2003 to reduce traffic congestion in Central London. In February 2007, the area covered was almost doubled in size with the new Western Extension. Since implementation of the original scheme, vehicle delays have reduced by 26% inside the charging zone and the bus fleet and ridership have increased significantly.
London is the largest city in the EU with 7.6 million inhabitants. Chronic traffic congestion in central London threatened businesses, impeded emergency and essential services and reduced quality of life. It lowered the efficiency of public transport and generated high time and monetary costs. The congestion charge aims to encourage people to use public transport, clean fuel vehicles, bicycles or walk, instead of driving into central London..
The 21-sq. km. congestion charging zone is bounded by the London Inner Ring Road and about 40,000 vehicles drive into it per hour in the morning peak. It requires motorists to pay a daily charge of £8 (€12; raised from £5 or €7.50 in summer 2006) for having a vehicle on a public road in the charging zone between 7.00am and 6.30pm each weekday, excluding holidays.
Drivers pay to have their vehicle number plate registered on a database. About 230 CCTV cameras installed along the boundary and inside the zone record images of vehicles entering, exiting and moving within it. An Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system matches vehicles with the database of registrations to charge drivers who have not paid. Payment can be made weekly, monthly or annually through various modes and outlets. Motorcycles, taxis, emergency and alternative fuel vehicles are exempted and the residents of the entire charging zone (including the new Western Extension) receive a 90% discount. Non-payment leads to different levels of penalties, followed by vehicle clamping or removal if drivers continue to default. After initial problems with enforcement, there have been sharp falls in fines issued and the percentage of these fines that are then contested.
The scheme cost £230 (€345) million to implement and has annual operating costs of around £88 (€132) million, leaving net revenue of £122 (€183) million, the bulk of which is spent on improving bus services.>In cost-benefit terms, the annual present value of the scheme is around £90 (€135) million.
Preceding implementation, TfL added over 300 buses and improved services to accommodate new riders. The revenues raised must by law, be spent on transport improvements in London for the next 10 years.
Results so far
TfL carries out extensive monitoring. The most recent annual results, for 2005 compare to 2002, are as follows:
- Congestion inside the charging zone reduced by 26%, traffic levels by 21% (the initial reduction was greater than this but congestion levels now appear to slowly increasing again).
- Traffic levels same in 2005 as in 2002 on main route round zone.
- The 37% increase in bus passengers entering zone in a.m. peak in first year was maintained up to 2005.
- Bus reliability and journey times have improved - excess wait time (the waiting time that exceeds a “scheduled wait”) reduced by 20% across all of London and by 30% in and around the charging zone in first year, and this was maintained in later years.
- The economy in the charging zone has been broadly unaffected - some retail was affected initially but since 2004 retail sales have increased faster in the zone than outside it.
Effective public information, extensive stakeholder consultation and public hearings have been key factors in the scheme's success. Other important factors were enhancement of bus services before implementation and accompanying measures to improve traffic management. The charge is considered as just one measure within a wider strategy for improving transport in London.
An extensive range of monitoring reports and other documentation is available at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/roadsandpublicspaces/2265.aspx