HomeBusinessWhat comes after London’s congestion charge?

What comes after London’s congestion charge?

When it was launched in 2003, London’s congestion cost made historical past: The UK capital was the first main metropolis after Singapore to introduce highway pricing for autos getting into the city core.

Despite political pushback and predictions of dire financial penalties, the cost succeeded in tamping down London site visitors, proving that car charges may be an efficient technique of decreasing congestion and air pollution – and offering a mannequin that different main cities nonetheless search to emulate. Eighteen years on, nonetheless, many are arguing that the cost in its present type is out of date. 

London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan lately introduced that town is exploring scrapping the cost for motor autos driving in Central London, changing it as an alternative with a payment for all automobile journeys throughout your entire metropolis. Although the precise type that the congestion cost’s substitute will take has but to be determined, it appears very possible that its days in its present type are numbered.

For many specialists, the change is already overdue. Some extra complete type of site visitors management is badly wanted if London is to have any likelihood of assembly the mayor’s purpose of reaching internet zero carbon emissions by 2030. The metropolis’s personal analysis estimates {that a} 27 per cent drop in kilometers pushed shall be wanted to succeed in this purpose. So far, measures launched along with the congestion cost – notably the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) that fees extra closely polluting autos a further US$17 every day payment to drive throughout an space that’s notably bigger that the congestion cost zone – have did not curb air pollution ranges. 

What’s extra, town is going through an pressing funding disaster associated to the pandemic. Because passenger numbers have nonetheless not recovered from virtually two years of COVID-driven lockdowns and distant work habits, Transport for London (TfL), town’s transit physique, is working out of cash, with its present bailout provisions ending Feb 4. Stiffer limits on driving throughout all of London may assist incentivize Londoners to get again on buses and trains, thereby easing the funding disaster.


The push for an alternate doesn’t imply that the congestion cost was a failure. In the cost’s first 12 months, site visitors on Central London’s streets throughout charging hours dropped 18 per cent, and site visitors delays fell by 30 per cent; after some preliminary resistance, the cost gained the approval of most space companies. The downside is that circumstances have modified because the early 2000s.

Private car numbers could have fallen in Central London, however they’ve been changed by a progress in non-public rent cabs and supply vans, powered by the rise of ride-hailing apps and on-line procuring. By 2016, Central London congestion had risen once more to ranges worse than earlier than the cost’s introduction.

The zone’s geographical scope has additionally proved too slender to energy a dramatic shift away from automobiles – although once more, it has had some successes. London’s modal share for personal transportation (primarily automobiles) fell by 11.8 share factors between 2000 and 2019.

That’s a constructive step, but it surely masks the truth that the general variety of journeys in non-public autos held regular between 2011 and 2019, at round 10 million journeys every day. Instead, that change displays a rise within the variety of journeys on foot, bike or public transit as London’s inhabitants has grown. 

That’s factor: London will not be paying for inhabitants progress with extra automobiles on the highway. It nonetheless implies that the variety of car producing heavy carbon emissions and different air pollution has remained stubbornly steady.


Getting extra individuals to surrender common driving may additionally assist to ease one other looming disaster: How to take care of good public transit service in an period the place ridership revenues could solely slowly get better from their COVID-era stoop. In Q3 of 2021 (the final quarter with knowledge out there) practice and bus journeys accounted for simply 25 per cent of London’s complete, a fall from 35.8 per cent in 2019. Not all of those journeys have transferred to personal autos – strolling and biking journeys have risen in addition to ones by automobile – but it surely has left a gap in TfL’s funds. The company was already hit by the delayed opening of Crossrail, a brand new crosstown heavy rail service set to start in June 2022 after three years of delay.

In November, Mayor Khan warned that substantial subway and bus service cuts can be vital with out an infusion of latest funding; the state stepped in to maintain the community afloat, contributing US$5.4 billion in further subsidies as of December 2021. 

This state of affairs is hardly distinctive to London – transit businesses in Paris and Berlin additionally wanted authorities bailouts after ridership falls. The stoop may nonetheless chunk deeper in London as a result of community’s decrease subsidies – it features 47 per cent of its funding from ticket gross sales in comparison with 38 per cent for Ile-de-France Mobilités, the Paris area’s public transit system.

With London’s Mayor Khan probably the most high-profile elected official for Britain’s opposition Labour Party, town can not essentially anticipate ongoing or enthusiastic assist from the Conservative nationwide authorities.

What may assist, nonetheless, are new measures that discourage driving, urging individuals again onto public transit and serving to to slender the funding hole.


A citywide “journey charge” that levies a payment on motorists in line with how a lot they drive may very well be a strong lever for prying drivers out of their autos. But the path to introducing such a cost in London remains to be undefined past an aspiration to take action between 2025 and 2030. As a Jan 18 report from town clarifies, it will take time to place in place the know-how essential to run such a pay-as-you-drive pricing scheme.

In the interim, due to this fact, the metropolis could undertake different anti-congestion and air pollution measures, reminiscent of extending the present Ultra Low Emissions Zone out to town’s borders, so closely polluting autos must pay to drive wherever inside the metropolis.

Another choice can be extending the scope of the ULEZ by requiring all however the lowest-emissions autos to pay this cost. Drivers throughout the capital could be charged a low blanket every day payment for any driving – presumably with exceptions for individuals with disabilities and on low incomes. Another choice: Charge all non-London registered autos a payment to enter town.

Exactly how the general public will obtain these plans stays to be seen. A significant shift in the direction of highway pricing may spark resentment, and the metropolis may run into hassle if it failed to supply adequate help to assist drivers on decrease incomes to improve to wash autos.

When the ULEZ was first expanded past London’s centre in 2021, the US$75.5 million allotted by town for grants to assist individuals purchase a cleaner car ran out earlier than all demand was met.

In the absence of concrete plans, the response to the ideas from the mayor has thus far been muted – probably as a result of probably the most contentious car-related subject within the metropolis appears much less to be how a lot driving prices as the place driving is allowed. The metropolis’s Low Traffic Neighborhoods – areas the place automobile entry is closely restricted – stay broadly disliked by drivers for his or her inconvenience and by some residents for displacing automobiles onto arterial roads. Support for highway pricing, in contrast appears to be rising, with a nationwide examine from October 2021 discovering a plurality in favor of the measure if it changed present highway and gas taxes, broadly seen as unfair.

Meanwhile, as London prepares to interchange its congestion cost, New York City is poised to belatedly introduce its personal. The message from the UK, nonetheless, will not be essentially that the coverage doesn’t work. It’s extra that it’s only one software in an ongoing drive to cut back site visitors and air pollution – a software that may in the end outlive its usefulness.



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