London’s Congestion Fee a Success

by Ken Livingstone

December 2004

The 2004 World Technology Winners and Finalists Winner: Ken Livingstone, Mayor, London, United Kingdom

Winner Commentary:

Central London had historically suffered from one of the worst levels of traffic congestion in the United Kingdom. Average traffic speeds were less than 10 miles per hour throughout much of the working day. This congestion was damaging London’s economy as people and goods spend unnecessary time in traffic rather than in productive activities. This congestion worsened the environment of London and made conditions unpleasant for other road users, in particular for walkers and cyclists. Something drastic needed to be done.

As new roads generate more traffic and in any case it is completely impractical to build new roads in such a densely developed area as London, a novel solution to rectifying this problem was required. As part of his 2000 election campaign the Mayor put forward his proposals for the central London congestion charge.

The scheme relies on people purchasing the charge, which can be obtained from shops and petrol stations, over the phone, via the web, 100 pay stations in car parks or by mobile phone text messaging. We also provide a fleet scheme used by 11,000 fleet vehicles per day. Their registration number is entered onto a database for that day. The scheme is enforced by cameras, which record the vehicle registration mark of all vehicles entering the zone. These are checked against the database of those that have paid, and if the registration mark is not included the owner of that vehicle will receive a fine. The technological issues in providing an efficient, reliable and integrated payment, monitoring and enforcement system were immense.

However, it was essential for this to work well, otherwise it could jeopardise the scheme itself, and given the world-wide scrutiny of this initiative, could lead other towns and cities deciding not to take forward similar schemes for their areas.

The scheme has been an enormous success. No other transport scheme has had such a positive impact on the traffic of a city. Detailed monitoring of its effects has been undertaken, with the key impacts being:

  • An immediate 30% reduction in congestion within the charging zone, which has been sustained since
  • An 18% reduction in traffic entering the zone, with the number of cars down by a third
  • An encouragement of other modes of travel – both cycling and travel by bus is up by 20%
  • A 60% reduction in delays to buses due to traffic impacts and a 30% improvement in overall bus reliability
  • A 12% reduction in emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and fine particles (PM10)
  • A reduction in road accidents (although too early to quantify)
  • No detrimental traffic impact on the boundary road or surrounding areas
  • On-street surveys show that people perceive the charge to have improved the environmental quality of the area


The lessons we learnt for the successful introduction of Congestion Charging


* The political commitment from Ken Livingstone, the Mayor was essential.

* Consultation was genuine with a readiness to amend the scheme in the light of reasonable representations.

* Public transport, especially buses (as we did not control the trains), was greatly improved.

* *Traffic management was utilised to ensure the inner ring road around the zone ran freely.

* Residential parking restrictions were introduced where it was thought motorists might park just outside the zone.

* Extensive public information using most media (including local radio and

TV) to inform motorists of the practicalities for how to pay the charge and also to keep the public informed on progress. (We did not want the communication channels swamped on the first day with motorists asking basic questions).

* First class project management.

A key test of the scheme’s success is the degree to which the public support it. Ahead of the introduction of the charge there was a massive and sustained media campaign against the charge, although the balance of public opinion remained fairly even, with around 40% for and 40% against the charge. After 6 months of its operation almost 60% were in favour of the scheme compared with around 25% against. Probably the best test is that on 4 June 2004 Ken Livingstone was re-elected Mayor of London for another 4 years with more votes than previously and a margin of 11% above his main rival who threatened to abolish the Congestion Charge.


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