February 17, 2022

Downtown Congestion Charges Out: London Moving to Citywide Road Pricing

It worked for a while and then it did not.

We all watched as  London in Great Britain did admirable work with the downtown congestion charges, and the introduction of the ultra low emission zones, reducing pollution and addressing climate change. That work on road pricing for vehicles entering the downtown was effective in lowering vehicular traffic.

These congestion charges were first introduced in 2003, and London was the first large city after Singapore to introduce these charges.

In order to reduce vehicular traffic across the city, London’s Lord Mayor Sadiq Khan is now reviewing getting rid of the downtown congestion charge and instead applying a fee for all car trips across the whole city.

The reason for this is to reach zero carbon emissions by 2030, meaning that a further 27 percent reduction in kilometers driven needs to be achieved.  As reported by Feargus O’Sullivan in Bloomberg.com  the hefty charges for polluting vehicles have not lowered pollution levels.

But there’s another angle too: like Metro Vancouver’s transit, Transport for London (TFL) has had a big reduction in transit ridership during the Covid pandemic and needs passengers.  The budget deficit is close to 1.9 billion pounds. A citywide road tax will bring back a much needed passenger base so that TFL can run in the black financially.

While Central London’s traffic was initially reduced and traffic congestion lessened, an increase in taxis and delivery vans negated the gains made, meaning by 2016 Central London’s vehicular congestion was just as it was when the whole exercise started in 2003.

And here are the statistics: “London’s modal share for private transportation (mainly cars) fell by 11.8 percentage points between 2000 in 2019. That’s a positive step, but it masks the fact that the overall number of journeys in private vehicles held steady between 2011 and 2019, at around 10 million journeys daily. Instead, that change reflects an increase in the number of journeys on foot, bike or public transit as London’s population has grown.”

The Mayor has not announced the proposed city wide charge yet, but  has suggested it will be about 2 pounds a day, (about 3.50 Canadian)  and eventually morph into a pay by the mile system.

Here’s a YouTube video of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan talking about the proposed changes with the Evening Standard’s “The Leader” podcast.


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  1. The congestion charge was only for a cordon around Central London, and it worked. The overall increase in vehicle journeys by car is a citywide phenomenon, so it’s not quite an apples-for-apples data comparison. It’s also true that “congestion” has not improved; but this is because so much space formerly assigned to cars was rightfully reallocated to other modes.

    Implementing a per-km or mile fee is very tricky but it can be done. It requires either a vast army of cameras or – more likely – GPS or a special odometer on every vehicle to record trip lengths. This information has to be instantly accessible by a central administrative network where fees are calculated, collected, and enforced. It all has to be legal, transparent, and bureaucratically feasible. It’s not impossible but it’s good if people are clear about what has to happen for this type of thing to work.

  2. The congestion charge increases transit use which – speaking from personal experience – also motivated hundreds of thousands of people to cycle instead of sardining oneself on the tube or overland. 20 miles a day on my bike was awesome!

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