The Congestion charge is correctly named

On Wednesday I had to give in and pay to drive in central London after 7 am. I had to deliver a heavy package to one place, drop off a print for framing at another, and fit in a haircut at another. I could not do all this on foot or by tube, and I could not do it before 7am when the charge comes in, given the hours of the other people involved

I got to the edge of the Charge zone after the rush hour. As soon as I could see the Congestion Charge zone signs hoving into view, the traffic jams began. The Cromwell Road was seized up. I discovered as I went about my business one lane of the two lane Fulham Road was closed for roadworks at the same time as the Cromwell Road problems. There were all too many places where our money was being spent on making the roads worse, only to delay us all more owing to the restrictions on use of the carriageway. The blockages on Southwark bridge are especially spectacular as they work to restrict the road system around that part of London and take the remaining useful general parking spaces out.

How right Ken Livingstone was to call it a Congestion Charge. He not only imposed the tax, but made sure with the changes to traffic light phasings, lane narrowings, chicanes and closures that you would be permanently in congestion if you still dared to use the zone. Under Ken only the rich could travel by car – as you would need to be very well off to afford £8 every day out of taxed income. It took me around 3 hours to get to all three places, have a hair cut and reach my Westminster office. To have to pay £8 on top was the last straw. I look forward to Boris carrying out his promise to scrap the charge in the west, and to rephase the lights so we can have less congestion in London. Maybe then he could rename the residual charge the Free flowing charge, and make sure we get something for the odd occasion when we have to pay it and need the roads to work. Shouldn’t it be refunded on days when they close too many streets,plunging us all into chaos?

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

23 Comments

  1. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Why hasn’t Boris tackled this already? Was it another example of a politician saying something to get elected and then conveniently forgetting about it?

  2. Posted August 29, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I do not live in London. And, if possible, I never go there.
    My question is this: Are you describing the healthy congestion of a large, bustling and vibrant metropolis?
    Or is it just the terminal decay of a once great Empire (Vienna, Rome, Istanbul?)
    I am never quite sure in this most enigmatic of countries.

  3. alan jutson
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Welcome to the real world.

    That is why I will not do business, or entertainment, which invoves any London travel, other than by train/tube, which then itself gets expensive if more than two wish to go.

    When you have paid a congestion charge, you are then faced with very high Car park charges, or camera’s at box junctions, or speed camera’s (for when traffic is moving)

    You are fortunate to be able to park in Parliaments car park (guess it is free) whilst Labour appear to want to charge ordinary employees for such a benefit (press reports), as they see this as a benefit in kind, which their employer is providing for them !!!!!!

    London is expensive enough without all of these charges, just shows how things can escalate once introduced (road charging ?).

    Meanwhile I am waiting for my bus pass, which would mean I could travel free (at point of use) until it is means tested.

  4. Posted August 29, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    As a matter of interest, are you allowed to claim the congestion charge on your MP’s expenses ?

    Reply: No

  5. Posted August 29, 2009 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I once had to go to south London to Denmark hill

    It took me on my scooter 90 minutes

    Longer than the tube and train.

    The traffic was just as bad as I remembered it.

    If not worse.

    If I need to go in during the day I either use the scooter or I use public transport Its not worth taking a car in You get charged three times petrol, parking and congestion not to mention wear and tear.

  6. Freddy
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    You’re talking about two separate issues here.

    The first is the Congestion Charge, and now I’m very confused. You have just spent a couple of threads ruminating about imposing tolls on the national road system, yet here you are fulminating about how only the very well off can afford to pay it daily. (OK, you were talking about substituting tolls for petrol duties, but still.)

    The second issue is the plague of little traffic planning graduates and all their daft ideas for improving traffic flow, safety, the environment, and whatever other tosh they feed into their cost benefit analyses to justify messing around with the road system. Strangely, their studies always seem to recommend enough work to continue their employment.

    To your list of daft traffic planning, may I add the imposition of three-phase traffic lights at crossroads.
    It used to be that, at a crossroads, traffic would flow on one road, then the lights would change, and traffic would flow on the other road, then the lights would change, repeat.
    Now, there are crossroads where there is a third phase: both roads are held on red, to enable pedestrians to cross on the diagonal. This is further to walk, so the period of both lights on red is longer than either of the periods of one light on red.
    I suspect that an immediate ban on this nonsense may be your quickest and cheapest way to reclaim “dead” road capacity in central London.

  7. mart
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the title of this article, how about calling it the Central London Motorist Charge. Or maybe we should use the proper word for such things, and replace the word Charge with the word Tax.

  8. Posted August 29, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    When the charge was introduced there was a considerable drop in the levels of traffic. However, car travel is a luxury that people try to afford. In a rich country, where most can afford more than a basic car, much of the GBP2000 a year cost for a daily commute can be met from a cheaper car, and keeping that car longer.

    The issue is that for many there is no close subsitute to the car. Public transport is usually slower (door to door); is less reliable time-wise; is dirtier; means some period outdoors (not so good in a variable climate) and requires more planning for the ad hoc trips that you describe.

  9. Bazman
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Road tolls, congestion charges? Just make petrol twenty quid a gallon. Problem solved. At least the same result.. Porsche on Monday, Ferrari on Tuesday….would also work. How serious is a helicopter taxi in London? Lavverly! Did anyone seriously think this was anything other than a tax? When more people started using motorbikes councils that had never charged for motorbike parking now do. Nothing to do with congestion and pollution and never was. In some parts of London car parking charges per hour are close to the hourly minimum wage. What does that say? Get a horse/donkey probably Shanks’s pony is all most will be able to afford.

  10. Posted August 29, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Well said. I’ve never forgotten what a very, very rich friend said when the Congestion Charge started, “I’m very much in favour of it. It won’t make a jot of difference to me, and it will keep everyone else off the roads and out of my way.”
    Although, I suspect that he has found, as you did, that the congestion is still there!

  11. Glyn H
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    I had an idea that obstructing the Queens Highway was an offence. The ‘Highways Agency’ seeks to protect Ministers from responsibility for their duties; but are they, or Inspector Knacker, absolved, when declaring a road closure for three weeks, or a ‘crime scene’, after a middling accident, from this age-old duty? Indeed is not anything, which obstructs a subject of HM, (not citizen of the EU) going about their lawful business an imposition upon our freedom? Will a future Conservative Government seek to remedy this impost?

    Is a libertarian and ‘c’onservative administration too much to wish? Or shall I just vote UKIP? As a long time former Tory activist – and distressed by the mendacity of Brown/Balls/Byers/Blunkett/Blair et al; has Mr Cameron got the strength of character to withstand the torrent of abuse that will engulf him 18 months into a Tory administration if they (you?) even do 25% of what is needed? Oh Cry the Far County indeed

  12. Mark
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    No smoke without fire, I see:

    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/banking_and_finance/article6814923.ece

    NM Rothschild proposing £100bn privatization of the motorway network… where did I just hear that proposal??

    Vince Cable in favour, but not Villiers who is still busy with her trainset. No comment from Labour as yet. Times journalists can’t do basic research: 1,811,424 signed the online No 10 petition to scrap road pricing plans, rather than the mere 230,000 they cite.

    Back to congestion charges: these really should be paid by the true causers of congestion, who are usually not the hapless travellers. Surcharge Livingstone for his chicanes and traffic lights: chop police pay and penalise utilities for unnecessarily lengthy road closures (the police do this with far too many incidents): make employers decide between congestion cost and employee work hours. By all means charge revellers converging on Trafalgar Square for midnight on New Years’ Eve: that is congestion entirely of their own making.

  13. Julian Melford
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    In London, people still refer to it as the Kengestion Charge or the Con Charge.

    http://www.london-motoring.org.uk/lcctruth.htm is a good referenced article that shows its ‘success’ has been much hyped.

    Steve Norris had some good ideas on how to reduce congestion without charging people for the priviliege of driving in it. Shame that he didn’t get a chance to implement them.

  14. James
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Some suggestions for reducing congestion and improving traffic flow:
    1. Implement your own excellent suggestion of a couple of years ago to adjust the geometry of junctions to allow filtering left on red lights.
    2. Build more roads and by-passes and widen existing ones.
    3. Ignoring Margaret Beckett, limit caravan use to between 1900 and 0700, and/or require towing vehicles to display an expensive vignette on their windscreens (as for users of the Swiss autoroutes).
    4. Strictly limit the time that the police can close motorways after crashes on the pretext of investigating crime scenes.

    • Richard
      Posted September 25, 2009 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      1: Agreed

      2: How idiotic. Firstly, wherever roads are needed, there’s no space to build them because stuff (homes, shops, etc) are in the way. Secondly, put another road in, or widen an existing one, and more cars fill it.

      3: Caravans are annoying, but they don’t cause congestion problems like the known issues do – roadworks, accidents, two lanes going into one, high level of car ownership, poor public transport etc

      4: The ‘pretext’ of investigating a crime scene? What on earth are you saying? The police enjoy closing motorways? They do it for fun.

  15. Adrian Peirson
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    If our Borders had been secured, there wouldn’t be any congestion, nor loandfill problems, nor as much pollution etc etc etc, We could still have helped take CO2 out of the Artmosphere ( not that I believe this global warming Tax Scam ) by planting tens of Billions of Trees.
    what sort of a (place-ed) do we want to leave our children, Just look around you.

    …………………………

    Roads should be free, Tv, and Internet should be free, how would we pay for it I hear you ask, simple, we simply Print our own money free of charge instead of Borrowing it at interest from Offshore bank(er)s.

    We are being farmed.

    • Richard
      Posted September 25, 2009 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Adrian – You’re joking yes?

      There’s nothing in your post to say that you’re joking, but you are, please?

      • Adrian Peirson
        Posted September 25, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        TV and Internet cold be run. like many Free Newspapers are by Advertising alone (it would force the TV comapnies to put decent stuff on otherwise no one woud watch ).

        As for Roads, yes of course they should be free, they are Public utilities, they allow this country to get to work.

        Where does the money come from to maintain the roads, well currently we borrow it, at interest, why dont we Print it instaed and use this to pay the Public servants who maintain the roads.

        As for Immigration, are you suggesting that the way to solve Congestion, loand fill, Pollution, housing shortages, terrorism rising crime levels is through mass immigration.

        What do you prefer Trees or concrete and 100 Million people.

        Similarly We coin our own money to pay our armed forces, the polices, the Nurses etc.

        All Free, and issue that into our Economy, what exactly is the problem.

        Do you really think we should continue Borrowing our Money At interest from Offshore banks.

        No, I’m not Joking, imagine if you were a Sovereign nation, would you rather coin your own money of Borrow the same worthless bits of paper at full face value and at interest.
        From me.

        Why do you want to pay for things that are not necessary.

        There is simply no need to pay income tax to pay for the Police and Armed forces, nurses, roads etc.

        • Richard
          Posted September 28, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink

          Wow… This gets better!

          You think that TV, radio and newspapers will improve if they completely have to rely on advertisers? Wonderful! If by “improve”, you mean lowest-common-denominator reality TV, makeover shows, shopping channels, and those late night quiz shows that are purely funded by premium rate idiots phoning premium rate numbers…

          And what’s your next point? Oh yes: Because I *don’t* think immigration is the cause of congestion, you say I must think that the way to solve “congestion, land fill, pollution, housing shortages, terrorism and rising crime levels” *is* through mass immigration. Talk about putting word in my mouth – Priceless, I mean really priceless!

          And now, let’s look at the final gleaming jewel on your oh-so-stupid crown: The way to solve the problem of having to pay for things is simple – Get people to print their own money.

          Now, I’m no psychologist, but I know that people like money. I know that people would therefore print *lots* of money. One pound, one billion pounds – which note would you print off?

          Do you know what happens when you have lots of money? Inflation or even hyperinflation. Think Germany pre-WW2, or Zimbabwe in more recent years: Notes that lose all value because someone just shoves a nought on the end. One wheelbarrow full of notes to buy a loaf of bread, don’t even think about buying a car.

          Please reply, and do share some more of your ideas. You’ve really helped open my eyes!

          R.

        • Posted September 28, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

          No I’m not suggesting we all run money printing machines at home, Only the Govt should have the authority to coin money.
          I’m suggesting that we as a Soverign Nation Print our own money rather than Borrow it at interest from Private Banks like the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England.
          That way, we dont have any loan to pay back, no loan means no Govt debt, no Govt debt means absolutely no need for us to pay ANY Income tax.
          Had we been doing that over the last 50 yrs our Nat debt wouldn’t be 2 Trillion like it is now it would ZERO.

          Of course any western leader willing to do that runs the risk of ending up like President Kennedy did when he ordered the US Treasury to put the US Federal Reserve out of Business by Printing US Treasury Bills, backed by Silver rather than Borrowing Federal Reserve notes backed by nothing but thin air.
          5 months after signing executive Order 11110, he was dead.

          http://www.ask.com/bar?q=executive+order+11110&page=1&qsrc=121&ab=3&title=President%20John%20F.%20Kennedy&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.apfn.net%2FDoc-100_bankruptcy31.htm

        • Posted September 28, 2009 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

          I know it’s confusing knowing which is really Federal and which is Private, US Treasury ( Federal )….US Federal Reserve ( Private ) but it was meant to be confusing.

          http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ron+paul+private+federal+reserve&search_type=

  16. mike of brentford
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Boris has become obsessed with bicycling and forgotten all about his pledges to get traffic moving in London. There was a publicity stunt not too long ago (“Holey war” – geddit?), heard nothing since.

    A few suggestions:

    Road digging
    No unscheduled (minimum 3 months’ notice) digging up of roads. Emergencies only, ie leaking gas, water, broken electricity or telco main, dangerous pot-hole. No simultaneous road-digging in adjacent or parallel roads, extended by area in case of major trunk roads. All road-digging operations must run 24/7 in shifts to complete work faster. Financial penalties against contractors who fail to meet agreed deadlines.

    Traffic light scheduling
    Reverse Livingstone’s sabotage in this area, and further improve from there. Introduce left hand turn filters at junctions wherever possible. I pass through two junctions every day (Brentford to Alperton) where this could be done. We just sit there like lemons for no reason.

    Introduce incentives for all freight that is delivered at night. Congestion charge cannot do this: £8 is no saving at all in this context.

    Convert zebra crossings to pelicans where appropriate. Some zebras are so busy that the traffic can barely get through them, especially during rush hour.

    Remove traffic lights from roundabouts. (I know – elf and safety – it’ll never happen).

    I could go on.

    Credit where its due: 1) the water mains replacement in my area has been done very well considering the enormity of the job, even though they’ve fallen well behind their schedule. 2) The current experiment to extend bus lane use to motorcyclists is a Good Idea, hope they implement.

    Come on, Boris. Get it sorted.

    Glyn H (above): You answered your own question there: just vote UKIP and be done with it.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page