By James Maloney

Transportation in urban areas around the world has been bogged down due to heavy congestion. There are simply too many vehicles for the roads to handle. However, in 2003 Transport for London found a simple, yet effective way to reduce congestion – they applied congestion charges. Congestion charges are fees that vehicle owners have to pay for their vehicles to be on the streets of London between 7 in the morning and 6 in the evening during weekdays (excluding official holidays).

Transport for London claims that the scheme has reduced the number of vehicles on city roads by as much as 70,000 per day thereby reducing congestion by 25%. Right now, this would hardly be noticeable as there are still many streets that are always busy, but the main reason for congestion is still the number of works done on roads and gas lines.

The primary benefit of the congestion charging scheme is of course to reduce congestion in urban areas, but there are quite a number of other benefits as well.

For instance, the fees that are accumulated during the scheme are used to improve the London public transportation systems – more busses have been improved and also the subway system (known locally as the Tube) is constantly being improved to accommodate the billion passengers it takes every year. Pollution on city streets has also been greatly reduced, creating a healthy environment. Reducing the number of vehicles on the roads by 70,000 has definitely reduced the amount of carbon that enters the atmosphere.

Safety has also improved in Greater London and within the charging zone. Collision reports have been reduced by as much as 6%. In the charging zone, this was reduced by as much as 8%. A reduction in congestion has meant that vehicles were able to get to their destination a lot faster. The delivery of goods and services has improved and London is running smoother.

The congestion charging system is very effective. The charging zone has been fixed with over 300 high quality cameras that take photos of vehicle license plates. The plate numbers are then entered into the database and matched against the plate numbers of those who have already paid the congestion charge and those that are exempted from paying.

The ones left are those that have not paid the congestion charge either before they entered the zone or within the day. Penalties are quite heavy for those who weren’t able to pay the congestion charge. The penalty is £120 ($190 U.S. dollars, ouch!), but is dropped to £60 ($85)  if it is paid within 14 days or two weeks. Paying the fee on time will save a vehicle owner a whole lot of money from having to pay the penalty.

Drivers do not know whether or not a photo of their license plate was captured whilst they were in the c-zone. If they drive within the zone and do not pay the congestion charge, a notice will be sent to them by mail with the corresponding amount that they will need to pay in penalty charges.

The congestion charge ranges from £9 ($14) to £12 ($19)  and discounts are offered to those who are driving “green” and eco-friendly vehicles or vehicles that use alternative sources of fuel. There are many popular car brands focus their marketing efforts on their cars being cheaper to run in London because they use alternative sources of fuel like electricity, hybrid hydrogen, and other sources of fuel.

The congestion charging scheme has certainly helped London reduce the number of vehicles on the city streets and improve the quality of their public transportation systems, and the quality of life of their residents at the same time.

 This would probably compare to U.S. Toll Roads.  Any way to reduce busy highway traffic is great.  Our thanks to James Maloney for this great info!  Also, for telling me how to convert your pounds into U.S. bucks! pb