The organisation responsible for the charge is Transport for London (TfL); Capita Group operates the scheme under contract. The system is run on a generally automatic basis using CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition.
TfL has defined some free through routes, where drivers do not have to pay the charge. The main route is defined by the western boundary of the original zone Vauxhall Bridge Road, Grosvenor Place, Park Lane and Edgware Road, with some additions around Victoria. The Westway is the other exempt route.
The original boundary of the zone (2003-02-17 – 2007-02-18) was largely the London Inner Ring Road. Starting at the northernmost point and moving clockwise, the major roads defining the boundary were Pentonville Road, City Road, Old Street, Commercial Street, Mansell Street, Tower Bridge Road, New Kent Road, Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall Bridge Road, Park Lane, Edgware Road, Marylebone Road and Euston Road (other roads filled the small gaps between these roads). The zone therefore included the whole of the City of London, the financial district, and the West End, London's primary commercial and entertainment centre. There were 136,000 residents living within the zone (of a total population of around 7,000,000 in Greater London), though the zone was primarily thought of (and zoned) as commercial rather than residential. There was little heavy industry within the zone. Signs were erected and symbols painted on the road to help drivers recognise the congestion charge area.
As of 4 July 2005, the non-discounted daily charge for non-exempt vehicles is £8, or £7 for fleet vehicles. Any applicable daily charge must be paid for a vehicle that is on a public road in the Congestion Charge Zone between 7 am and 6 pm, Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays in England and a period over Christmas. Drivers may pay the charge via a website, by SMS text message, in shops equipped with a PayPoint, or by phone. The charge may be paid the day after at an increased cost of £10.
While private drivers are obliged to pay the charge either the day before, on the day or on the following day, whether they are seen to enter the zone or not, the same does not apply to fleets of business vehicles. A business can register a group of vehicles with TfL, and is charged £7 per visit for all vehicles in the fleet detected by the cameras. In May 2005, businessman Miguel Camacho set up fivepounds.co.uk, whose sole function was to sign up private drivers to their "fleet", thus offering the convenience of not having to pay the charge pro-actively, avoiding fines in the case of a forgotten journey and also potentially getting a "free journey" if undetected by the cameras. TfL, which obtains nearly half of its net revenue from fines, moved quickly to quash the loophole, by demanding that fleet operators provide the registration document for each vehicle in their fleet. Fivepounds went out of business on 26 February 2006.
Drivers of foreign-registered vehicles are not exempt from the charge but the current lack of an international legal framework for the assessment and collection of traffic fines makes enforcement and recovery difficult. In 2005, The Guardian obtained documentation under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which showed that out of 65,534 penalty tickets issued to non UK registered vehicles, only 1,993 had been paid.
In October 2005, it was reported that two London embassies, those of the United States and Germany, were not paying the charge as they considered it to be a tax, which they are protected from paying under the Vienna Convention. Some other embassies do pay the charge. By May 2006, it was reported, the US embassy owed £270,000 in fines for non-payment. A TfL spokesperson stated that US embassies do pay tolls in Oslo and Singapore. TfL argues that the charge is a toll, not a tax. In April 2006, after not paying it since its introduction in February 2003, the embassy of the United Arab Emirates decided that its diplomats would now pay the charge.
TfL can and does suspend the congestion charge either in a small local area to cope with incidents and if directed to do so by a police officer. The congestion charge was suspended on 7 and 8 July 2005 in response to the terrorist attacks on London Transport.
In 2007 a green motoring website alleged to TfL that owners of luxury cars were registering their vehicles as minicabs in order to qualify for exemption from the charge. Registering a vehicle as a minicab costs £82 plus £27 per year licence fee, much less than the congestion charge. TfL responded that it carried out regular checks to confirm that cars were being used for the purposes they were registered for, and that they had not discovered any such cases.
The scheme makes use of CCTV cameras to record vehicles entering and exiting the zone. Cameras can record number plates with a 90% accuracy rate through automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology. There are also a number of mobile camera units which may be deployed anywhere in the zone. The majority of vehicles within the zone are captured on camera. The cameras take two still pictures in colour and black and white and use infrared technology to identify the number plates. These identified numbers are checked against the list of payees overnight by computer. In those cases when a number plate has not been recognised then they are checked manually. Those that have paid but have not been seen in the central zone are not refunded, and those that have not paid and are seen are fined. The registered owner of such a vehicle is looked up in a database provided by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), based in Swansea. Before the charge was implemented a TfL employee said off the record that the cameras could be fooled by tailgating or switching lanes at the correct time.
Historically, private toll roads, funded by turnpike trusts, were common from the late 1600s until the Local Government Act 1888 passed ownership and responsibility to county and county borough councils. As a result the use of roads in the United Kingdom is generally free of charge, subject to the payment of the road fund licence. However, there are specific sections of public roads that remained tolled, which are mainly bridges and tunnels as well as the M6 toll motorway. Of the many previously existing toll roads in London there remains one, College Road in Dulwich, which is privately owned by Dulwich College but accessible by the public.
Road tolls have been advocated by many others in the past, such as the 18th century economist Adam Smith, as a way of directly funding the construction and maintenance of routes.
The power to introduce "Road user charging" was given to any future mayor in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Ken Livingstone had proposed in his manifesto to introduce a £5 charge for vehicles entering Central London. Following his victory, the Mayor made a draft order and requested a report from TfL, which summarised the reasons for introducing the scheme. The scheme was to be introduced to reduce congestion in the centre of the capital following the Draft Transport Strategy of January 2001 which had highlighted the importance that the Mayor placed on tackling this issue. The charge was to be part of a series of measures to improve the transport system in London and was to combined with public transport improvements, increased enforcement of parking and traffic regulations. The report stated that the scheme was expected to be the most effective in reducing through traffic, reducing congestion both within and outside the zone, improving the speed of buses and the quality of life in Central London. It was stated that improved traffic flows would make London more attractive to business investment. Substantial net revenues were anticipated, which were to be invested in London's transport system. It also states that 90% of those who responded to a consultation on the scheme, viewed reducing traffic congestion in central London as 'important'.
Having won the first mayoral election in 2000, Ken Livingstone opted to exercise these powers as promised in his independent manifesto, and carried out a series of consultations with interested parties with the basic scheme agreed in February 2002.
In November 2003, Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling said that despite apparent initial interest from many city councils, including those of Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol, no city apart from Edinburgh had yet approached the Government for assistance in introducing a charge. Edinburgh City Council proposed a congestion zone, but this was rejected in a postal referendum by around 75% of voters in Edinburgh. Unlike in London, where Ken Livingstone had sufficient devolved powers to introduce the charge on his own authority, other cities would require the confirmation of the Secretary of State for Transport. Manchester has proposed a peak time congestion charge scheme which could be implemented in 2011/2012. Plans for similar charges in both the West Midlands and East Midlands have been rejected. The government has proposed a nation wide scheme of road tolls, but public opposition has been fierce and included a petition of nearly 2 million signatories on the 10 Downing Street website. In an article in the Sunday Times in December 2007, the author describes how he believes that the failure of the London scheme, in terms of value for money, could undermine the Government's desire to convince other parts of the UK to introduce similar schemes.
A few other cities around the world already use or have tried congestion pricing schemes, including Singapore (the first scheme in the world, started in 1975, upgraded in 1998), Rome, Valletta, and Stockholm. Others have implemented a city centre charging zone as a road toll to pay for capital investment in transport infrastructure, including Oslo, Trondheim, and Bergen. A proposal to implement congestion pricing in New York City was stalled in 2008, as the New York State Assembly decided not vote on it. The New York congestion pricing charge was one component of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2007 plan to improve the city's future environmental sustainability while planning for population growth, entitled PlaNYC 2030: A Greener, Greater New York.
Initial suggestions that school holidays were responsible for part of the traffic drop during the first week of operation of the charge were confirmed when traffic rose again by 5% following the return to school at the beginning of the second week of the charge. Reports indicated that, over the first month or so of operation, traffic was consistently down at least 15% on pre-charge levels, with the second week seeing the reduction drop to 20%. The AA Motoring Trust suggested that changes to the timing of traffic lights and the end of major road works had also impacted congestion.
On 23 October 2003 TfL published a report reviewing the first six months of the charge. The report's main findings were that the average number of cars and delivery vehicles entering the central zone was 60,000 fewer than the previous year. Around 50–60% of this reduction was attributed to transfers to public transport, 20–30% to journeys avoiding the zone, 15-25% switching to car share, and the remainder to reduced number of journeys, more traveling outside the hours of operation, and increased use of motorbikes and bicycles. Journey times were found to have been reduced by 14%. Variation in journey time for a particular route repeated on many occasions also decreased. The report also claimed that although the charge was responsible for about 4,000 fewer people visiting the zone daily, that the charge was responsible for only a small fraction of the 7% drop in retail sales reported. The report also stated that around 100,000 penalty fines were issued each month, of which about 2,000 were contested.
By comparison, an experimental short-term congestion charge in Stockholm saw an average 25% reduction in traffic numbers.
A year before the congestion zone, TfL set up automatic traffic counters and augmented them with regular classified traffic counts at key locations, in order to monitor long term trends. Their results are reviewed and reported annually.
A report by TfL in early 2007 indicated that there were 2.27 traffic delays per kilometre in the original charging zone. This compared with a figure of 2.3 before the introduction of the congestion charge. After the scheme was introduced they had measured an improvement in journey times of 0.7 minutes per km, or 30%. This improvement had decreased to 22% in 2006, and during 2006 congestion levels had increased so that the improvement, compared to the year before the scheme, was just 7%. TfL explained this as a result of changes to road priorities within the zone, delays caused by new pedestrian and road user safety schemes, and, most particularly, a doubling of road works in the latter half of 2006. (Utilities were encouraged to complete planned road works in the year proceeding the congestion charge, so it would appear that the first year of measurement used for later comparisons would also have been affected by streetworks to some extent.)
TfL's report in June 2007 found that the level of traffic of all vehicle types entering the central Congestion Charge Zone was now consistently 16% lower in 2006 than the pre-charge levels in 2002. The conservative Bow Group noted that the main effect occurred after 11 am.
Breaking down that figure showed the number of chargeable vehicles entering the zone had reduced by 30% (primarily cars and minicabs, although vans and lorries had decreased by 13%), while there were overall increases in the numbers of taxis, buses, and especially bicycles. The daily profile of traffic flows had changed, with less traffic after 9:30 am and a peak immediately before and after the end of the charging period. The level of traffic entering the zone during the morning peak had not reduced as much as at other times. They had noted a small but pervasive long term trend of less traffic entering the zone, expected to be a result of people changing their location and lifestyle, perhaps influenced by the charge. Once within the charging zone car and delivery traffic remained unchanged, suggesting that the journeys made by residents and businesses within the zone were broadly unaffected. Changes to the road network over the years has made direct comparisons difficult, but TfL suspect that certain routes used heavily by taxis and buses within the zone have seen substantially increased traffic. On some of the boundary roads traffic numbers had increased slightly but congestion and delays were largely unchanged from 2002 levels. Year on year, counts of inbound traffic approaching the zone had also seen a distinct and significant 5–7% decline in the number of chargeable vehicles, which was unexplained.
The charge operates for under one third of the hours in a year and covers around two thirds of the central London traffic. In total 8% of traffic kilometres are affected by the scheme. TfL have extrapolated the trends in road speed in the congestion zone; they have suggested that speeds would have dropped from 17 km/h in 2003 to 11.5 km/h by 2006, had the scheme not been put in place.
Following the introduction of the Western Extension, TfL stated that traffic had fallen around 10 to 15% in the extended zone. The original zone is showing a 4% increase in congestion following expansion of the congestion charge and the introduction of extended to discounts to residents of the new zone and buffer zone. TfL assessed the increase in charges in 2005 to have had only a slight impact overall.
Although it was suggested that the scheme should improve the speed of vehicles in the centre, the London Ambulance Service (LAS) anticipated increased volumes of traffic around the edge of the zone and an increase in demand within the zone, that might both adversely affect clinical outcomes. However, since then, survival rates for LAS' witnessed cardiac arrests have tripled across Greater London. LAS attributes these improvements to equipment availability and operational processes, such as the deployment of four-wheeled and two-wheeled rapid response units that can weave through congestion more quickly. This, and TfL's increase in the number central London traffic calming measures, would suggest that other much more significant factors have masked any congestion charge-related changes in outcome, either up or down. In addition, like some other essential services, LAS felt it necessary to divert about £¼M from their budget to pay congestion charge allowances for key staff affected by the charges during their journey to work.
According to a November 2007 newspaper report, TfL data showed that after an initial improvement, that rush-hour congestion had become worse than it was before the congestion charge was introduced. In December 2007, another article contained a similar observation, that although after the first year the results were looking good, with traffic speeds up, that at the time of writing, traffic speeds and delays were virtually back to their February 2003 levels.
TfL expects that many of these road safety interventions would have occurred irrespective of the introduction of congestion charging. Cars and motorcycles have seen the biggest reduction in accidents, whereas bicyclists have seen a slight increase, which perhaps reflects their increased numbers. For comparison, the inner ring road also saw a substantial drop as accidents fell from 961 to 632, which was slightly less than the average for Greater London.
Since the introduction of the western extension, TfL has made a number of bus route changes to take advantage of the presumed higher traffic speeds and the greater demand for public transport. One new route (route 452) has been introduced and three others (routes 31, 46 and 430) have been extended. In addition, the frequency of buses on other routes through the zone extension has been increased.
However London First's own report indicated that business was broadly supportive. Subsequently another report stated that there had been a reduction in some employment in the charging zone. TfL criticised the reports as unrepresentative and that its own statistics reported no effect on business.
A report in May 2005 stated that the number of shoppers had declined by 7% year-on-year in March, 8% in April and 11% in the first two weeks of May. TfL countered that an economic downturn, the SARS outbreak and threat of terrorism were likely factors. At the same time a London Chamber of Commerce report indicated that 25% of businesses were planning on relocation following the charges introduction. However an independent report six months after the charge was implemented suggested that businesses were then supporting the charge. London First commissioned the study which reported that 49% of businesses felt the scheme was working and only 16% that it was failing. The Fourth Annual Review by TfL in 2004 indicated that business activity within the charge zone had been higher in both productivity and profitability and that the charge had a "broadly neutral impact" on the London wide economy. The Fifth Annual Review continued to show the central congestion zone outperforming the wider London economy.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research predicted that the West London extension in February 2007 would cause 6,000 job losses. In May 2007, a survey of 150 local businesses stated they had seen an average drop in business of 25% following the introduction of the charge, which was disputed by TfL which stated that there had been "no overall effect" on business and that it had outperformed the rest of the UK in the central zone during 2006.
Surface transport accounts for 22% of London's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The reduction of airbone emissions wasn't listed as one of the reasons for introducing the congestion charge. The pre-commencement report from TfL noted that the scheme wasn't expected to significantly affect air quality, but that offering a discount to encourage the use of greener fuels would be a positive measure. However, TfL has reported changes in air quality within and alongside the Inner Ring Road boundary of the zone. Levels of two greenhouse gases fell, nitrous oxide (N2O), by 13.4% between 2002 & 2003, and carbon dioxide, as well as particulates (PM10). In 2007, the Fifth Annual Monitoring Report by TfL stated that between 2003 and 2006, N2O emissions fell by 17%, PM10 by 24% and CO2 by 3%, with some being attributed to the effects of reduced levels of traffic flowing better, with the majority being as a result of improved vehicle technology. In total, the rate of fall in CO2 has been 20%. The TfL report makes it clear that only a one-off reduction of emissions could be expected from the introduction of the charge, whilst further reductions are unlikely to be as a result of the charge.
|Charging zone||Inner Ring Road|
|Overall traffic emissions change 2003 versus 2002||-13.4||-15.5||-16.4||-6.9||-6.8||-5.4|
|Overall traffic emissions change 2004 versus 2003||-5.2||-6.9||-0.9||-5.6||-6.3||-0.8|
|Changes due to improved vehicle technology||-17.3||-23.8||-3.4||-17.5||-20.9||-2.4|
|Source: Transport for London 2003–2004 figures are TfL estimates.|
National trends had already shown a rapid decline of some other emissions during the late 1990s, notably carbon monoxide, and levels have been relatively stable since 2002 across London. Since 2002, the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) produced by diesel exhaust has become a serious problem, with the London Air Quality Network of King's College London reporting that the annual mean NO2 objective (of 40 μgm-3 or 21 ppb) was exceeded at all kerbside and roadside monitoring sites across central and greater London during 12 months between 2005 and 2006. Although no areas within the Congestion Charge Zone reported NO2 levels above an upper limit of 200 μgm-3 (105 ppb), some monitoring areas near the zone boundary experienced very long periods at such levels, notably the A23 near Brixton (3741 hours) and the Marylebone Road (849 hours). TfL report that emissions may not necessarily feed through into improvements in air quality and that vehicle emissions are only one contributor to total emissions of a particular pollutant along with weather conditions and industrial use. It was also reported that pollutant concentrations were being affected by the change in the make up of the vehicle fleet. Preliminary reports also indicate the rate of decline in certain pollutants is decreasing. Further studies are being undertaken into the air quality effects.
TfL's annual report for 2006–7 shows that revenues from the congestion charge were £252.4m over the financial year, representing 8.5% of TfL's annual revenues. More than half of this was spent on the cost of running the toll system, at £130.1 million. Once other charges were deducted, the congestion charge brought in an annual operating net income of £89.1m for TfL. (This income compares with TfL's total revenue from bus and tube fares of £2,269.4m, or 76.6% of revenue before costs, or grants from central government of £2,390.3 million.)
By law, all surpluses raised must be reinvested into London's transport infrastructure; at the start of the scheme it was anticipated that this would be around £200 million. According to a report issued in February 2007, the initial costs of setting up the scheme were £161.7 million, with an annual operating cost of about £115m anticipated. Total revenues over the first three and a half years had been £677.4 million, with TfL reporting a surplus over operating costs of £189.7 million.
The initial operating revenues from the congestion charge did not reach the levels that were originally expected. Within six months of the start of the scheme, the reduction in traffic had been such that TfL were predicting a £65 million revenue shortfall.
The June 2005 increase in charges by 60% only resulted in a relatively small rise in revenues, as there were fewer penalty payments. The anticipated start up costs of the Western extension were £125 million with operating costs of £33m; expected gross revenues were expected to be £80 million resulting in net revenues of £50 million.
|Revenues (£m) provisional|
|Standard daily vehicle charges (currently £8)||98||121||125|
|Fleet vehicle daily charges (currently £7)||17||19||27|
|Resident vehicles (currently £4 per week)||2||2||6|
|Total operation and administration costs||(92)||(88)||(90)|
|Net operating income||(4)||(58)||45.3||96.4||106.3||89||275|
|Expenditure (% of operating revenue)|
|Bus network improvements (incl. vehicles, garages & shelters)||80%||82%|
|Road safety (incl. research & campaigns)||11%||4%|
|"Safer routes to schools" initiative||2%|
|Walking & cycling programmes & publicity||6%||2.5%|
|Distribution and freight (incl. review of a London lorry ban)||1%|
|Road and bridge maintenance & upgrades||11%|
Although Parliament has limited the amount that authorities can borrow, for some time it had been speculated that the regular income obtained from the congestion charge and other revenues could be used to securitise a bond issue that finances other transport projects across London. TfL issued their first bond for £200 million in 2005, to be repaid at 5% interest over 30 years. TfL plans to borrow £3.1 billion more to fund a 5-year transport programme across London, including works on London Underground and road safety schemes.
Before the charge's introduction, there were fears of a very chaotic few days as the charge bedded down. Indeed Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London and key proponent of the charge, himself predicted a "difficult few days" and a "bloody day".
In July 2002, Westminster Council launched a legal challenge against the plans, arguing that they would increase pollution and were a breach of human rights of residents on the boundary of the zone. The High Court rejected the claim. On introduction, the scheme was the largest ever undertaken by a capital city.
Steven Norris, the Conservative Party candidate for mayor in 2004, has been a fierce critic of the charge, branding it the 'Kengestion' charge. A few days before the scheme came into operation, he wrote in a BBC report that it had been "shambolically organised", that the public transport network had insufficient spare capacity to cater for travellers deterred from using their cars in the area by the charge. Further, he said that the scheme would affect poorer sections of society more than the rich, with the daily charge being the same for all, regardless of vehicle size. He pledged to scrap it if he became mayor in June 2004. He had also pledged that, if elected, he would grant an amnesty to anyone with an outstanding fine for non-payment of the charge on 11 June 2004. In an interview with London's Evening Standard newspaper on 5 February 2004, Conservative leader Michael Howard backed his candidate's view by saying that the charge "has undoubtedly had a damaging effect on business in London. Liberal Democrat candidate, Simon Hughes, however, supported the basic principles of the scheme. Amongst some of the changes he proposed were changing the end time from 6:30 pm to 5 pm and automatically giving all vehicles five free days each year so as not to affect occasional visitors.
In 2005, the Liberal Democrats claimed that Capita had been fined £4.5 million for missing the targets set for the congestion charge, that was equivalent to £7,400 for every day that the charge had existed. The London Assembly Budget Committee 2003 report on the company criticised the contract with Capita as not providing value for money. It was reported in July 2003 that TfL agreed to subsidise Capita by paying it £31 million because it was making no profits from the project, and that the most critical problem was the 103,000 outstanding penalty notices not paid. Capita was also the company that won the 'Most Invasive Company' award in the Privacy International 2003 Big Brother Awards.
The congestion charge remained an issue during the run up to the 2008 mayoral election. Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party candidate suggested looking at a graduated charging scheme and proposed further consultation on whether to remove parts of the Congestion Charge Scheme. He also said that he would not introduce the emissions based charging system which was due to be introduced in October 2008
At the end of September 2005, London Mayor Ken Livingstone confirmed the western expansion of the congestion charge, to come into effect on 19 February 2007. It was expected that the extension would increase congestion in the zone by around 5% as the 60,000 residents in the new zone will be entitled to the discounts available. Several roads were also to be left charge-free between the original zone and the extension.
The proposal was put forward the end of 2006 by Ken Livingstone; a variable congestion charge based on the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) bands would be introduced. This would reduce or eliminate the charge for Band A vehicles, and increase it to up to £25 a day for Band G vehicles, with CO2 emissions greater than 225 g/km.
Consultation on these proposals began in August 2007. and ended on 19 October 2007.
The main change would be the introduction of two new fees:
Acting director of the RAC Sheila Raingner stated that "The congestion charge was originally developed to reduce congestion. Changing this will confuse the public and reduce support and trust for future initiatives.
Land Rover commissioned a report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research think tank, which concluded that the scheme would increase pollution. It had also been criticised by car manufacturer Porsche, who announced they intended to request a judicial review. They claim the new charges are disproportionately high, and will not make a 'meaningful difference' to the environment.
At the request of Porsche, King's College released the full report of the possible effects of the new system that was originally commissioned by Transport for London. This report indicated that the proposed new system would reduce CO2 emissions in central London by 2,200 tonnes by 2012, but would increase CO2 emissions by 182,000 tonnes in outer London, due to drivers of more polluting vehicles avoiding congestion charge zones.
Upon the release of this report, a spokesman Transport for London stated that the methodology used by King's was 'less robust and accurate than TfL's methodology'. They stated that their findings suggested reductions of up to 5000 tonnes of CO2 by 2009, and claimed that King's College agreed with these results and were making revisions to their report