Congestion charging sweeps the world
- Published Sunday, February 15, 2004, in the Observer (UK)
Congestion charging sweeps the world
A rash of cities round the globe is set to travel the same road as
By Juliette Jowit
Cities throughout Britain and across the world are poised to introduce
their own congestion charges after the apparent success of the first
year of the ground-breaking London scheme.
Edinburgh and Cardiff are the furthest ahead, with plans for new
charges on cars to raise money for investment, to be introduced within
two years. The Scottish and Welsh capitals are both advancing
proposals to charge drivers to pass a cordon around their city
centres, explicitly linked to raising money for trams, trains and
other transport improvements.
Stockholm is to start a pilot next year and Barcelona and Milan have
shown interest in the idea. In North America, San Francisco is said
to be moving close to charging. [This is news to BATN. But see
below: evidently this refers to HOT freeway lanes, not car-choked SF
itself.] And the Brazilian city of S�o Paulo is working on a
proposal as well.
The surge in studies and consultations has been unleashed by the
apparent success of the �5-a-day London congestion charge, which
celebrates its first year this week.
To mark the milestone, the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, is likely to
say latest figures show congestion in the zone is down by up to 30 per
cent, average speeds are their highest since the 1960s, journey times
are more reliable and businesses have benefited.
But research published last weekend by business groups shows they are
divided on this last issue, and motoring organisations say that the
results are flattered by a curb on roadworks and that the scheme is
dogged by uncollected fines and charging errors.
But, confident of his success, Livingstone is also expected to
announce a public consultation on a proposal to double the scheme to
cover the West End as well as the capital's central zone.
He has already braved the controversial announcement that he plans to
raise fines by 25 per cent for non-payers of the charge.
Derek Turner, the man credited with introducing the London scheme, now
runs his own consultancy and says the London charge is seen as a
success around the world and has given politicians the confidence to
start discussing their own schemes.
"I think most urban areas and suburban areas will have some sort of
road-pricing regime," he said. "It's a nonsense to suggest we can
sustain a free-at-the-point-of-delivery congested road network. After
all, we pay for water in a metered way."
As well as cutting congestion, the other big incentive to introduce
road pricing is to raise money. On this count the London charge has
fallen significantly short of expectations, although Transport for
London, the Mayor's transport executive, says improved collection of
fines has improved the financial position.
Elsewhere, studies by Deloitte consultants claim that 26 out of 34
cities in 15 European countries showed "significant support" for some
form of charging. Across 11 countries in Latin America, 47 per cent
of cities claimed "significant support" and a further 40 per cent were
"thinking about it" -- although the report does not say how many
cities responded there.
In North America, San Francisco is openly talking about a congestion
charge to complement existing tolls on special "fast" lanes of
highways into the city to encourage vehicles with one or more
passengers, and the "twin cities" of Minneapolis and St Paul in
Minnesota are considering pricing all main roads and freeways. Other
urban areas are expected to follow suit -- but they are more likely,
at least at first, to charge cars to drive into the cities, says Peter
Samuel, editor of the US-based Toll Roads Newsletter.
"Perhaps with the exception of lower Manhattan and San Francisco,
American central cities have been developed in the automobile age and
they aren't the most congested places; the most congested places are
The World Bank is also reported to be pressing booming cities in
developing countries to use charging to curb exploding traffic growth,
calling for cities in the developing countries to use charges to
reduce fast-growing car use, raise money for much-needed
infrastructure and free up congested buses, which are traditionally
the main form of mass transport.
In a different type of scheme, Nottingham has proposed taxing parking
places at work.
There are reasons for caution. In the past year two proposals have
been put on hold because of politics -- in Bristol because of change
in political control of the council, in New York because of wider
Technical problems could hold up other, more ambitious schemes to
charge by satellite technology according to the time of day or level
of traffic. In Germany, there have already been problems with a
national lorry charge, and in Britain there is widespread scepticism
that a similar scheme will be in place on time in 2006.
However, critics of the London scheme claim that unfair fines have
soared, speed rises are bolstered by a curb on roadworks, retail and
leisure businesses are suffering, and that the proposed extension to
the west will be much harder to implement.
World cities queue up to charge
Congestion charging explained
There are three key types of congestion charging: area charge, as in
London, where you pay when you drive in a zone; cordon charge, such as
in Norway, where you pay to drive through an invisible line around an
area; and wider area, normally national charging
* Green light zones
(Schemes already operating)
Singapore: electronic toll cordon around city centre, based on paper
scheme introduced in 1975
London: world's biggest scheme started February 2003
Durham: tiny city-centre scheme, started October 2002
Rome: ancient city centre scheme, started late 2001, extension being
Norway: up to 20 towns and cities, including Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim,
have cordon tolls
Melbourne: tolls on major routes into city
Austria and Switzerland: national lorry charging
* Amber light zone
(planning/seriously considering schemes)
Edinburgh: referendum on plan to start toll in 2005, linked to train
and tram improvements
Cardiff: tendering for toll scheme linked to infrastructure
Stockholm: pilot due to start in 2005 before referendum on keeping
New York: tolls exist on many tunnels and bridges on to Manhattan
island, but wider charging opposed
San Francisco: most advanced thinking in US, interest in charge zone
linked to existing HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes on main roads into
S�o Paulo: looking at cordon to replace current scheme alternating
vehicle access according to number plates
United Kingdom: national lorry charge planned for later this decade
and consulting on scheme for all cars
* Red light zones
(traffic schemes discussed, but not yet approved)
Bristol: much-talked-of scheme on hold after Labour-controlled council
lost to Liberal Democrats last year
Germany: less interest than expected, probably due to good
infrastructure and public transport
Shanghai and Beijing: experts predict need for traffic controls soon
because of explosion in traffic.