Winter 2003, p.17
Lessons from London
In New York City, Mayor Mike
Bloomberg says he wants to toll the East River bridges. In response, Brooklyn
and Queens politicians are hallucinating and screaming about horrible toll
plazas jammed with motorists. As they howl, traffic at the existing approaches
to these bridges remains atrocious. Meanwhile, in London, on February 17,
Mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone began tolling the 250,000 vehicles that
enter the center city every day with high-tech computerized cameras that
recognize license plates. The traffic jams have evaporated and critics have
been silenced. At press time, traffic in London's Traffic Management Zone is
down 20% and London's system is processing about 95,000 payments and issuing
about 6,000 penalty fines every day. Whether motorists will pay these fines
remains an open question. But with traffic down and 95% of motorists paying to
enter the zone, the experiment is looking good.
Transportation experts have known for decades that the best tool for unsnarling traffic in places like central London and Midtown Manhattan is charging motorists an entrance fee; but they have also routinely faced significant political opposition. In London, political opposition dissipated when the city freely elected its mayor for the first time in hundreds of years; previously, the mayor had been appointed by the more conservative central government. Londoners, fed-up by terrible traffic congestion and a broken transportation system, elected Ken Livingstone because of his pledge to make a major transportation overhaul. Ironically, Livingstone looked to New York City for his transportation boss, Robert Kiley. Kiley is probably the foremost big city transportation expert in the world. Before moving to London, he was a strong advocate for tolls as head of the NYC Partnership Chamber of Commerce. Prior to his time at the Partnership, Kiley spent time as head of the MTA (NYC's subways, buses and commuter rail) for a decade as well as as a deputy mayor in Boston. Interestingly, Kiley's second in command at Transport for London (TfL), the new unified transportation agency, is Jay Walder, also a New Yorker. (Note: TfL does not yet control London's struggling subway system.)
How does London's Tolling System Work?
Vehicles entering the "Traffic Management Zone" have their license plates scanned by a computerized camera, which automatically deducts the £5 ($8) fee from the motorist's account. Drivers can create accounts over the phone or on the Web. Motorists without an account are given until midnight of the day of travel to pay. After that, fines increase from £48 for payment in the first two weeks to a whopping £120 ($180) if payment is not received within a month.
London Congestion Pricing Fun Facts
Cost of creating zone, including computerized camera billing system, signage etc.: £200 million, including £100 million of complementary traffic management measures being spent across greater London.
Area of zone: Eight square miles. (Equivalent to Manhattan between Houston and 60th Street.)
Percentage of London in Zone: 1.3% of the 617 sq miles of greater London.
Entries and exits into zone: 174
When charges are in effect: Weekdays 7 am - 6:30 pm
Cost to enter zone: £5
When payment required: Motorists without a debit account have until 10 pm the day of travel to pay via phone, Web or at a retail office. An additional £5 charge is levied for payments made between 10 pm and midnight.
Penalty for non-payment: £48 if paid in first 14 days, £80 if paid in 14-28 days, £120 after one month.
Who pays: Everyone except residents, government vehicles, disabled, alternative-fuel vehicles, nine passenger plus vehicles and tow trucks.
Reduction of traffic in zone: 20% (as of week three). TfL had estimated 10-15% traffic reduction.
Some 40,000 vehicles an hour drive into congestion charging zone--equivalent to 25 busy highway lanes-during morning peak (7-10 am).
Daily payments: 95,000
Daily penalties issued: 6,000
Privacy: TfL says the images of all of the license plates recorded that day are erased after midnight each day.
Where does the money go? To transportation, though it will take two to three years to pay for the £200 million start-up cost of the zone. After that, money will go to road and transit projects.
Half of the 136,000 residents living within the charging zone are in car-owning households.
Over one million people enter central London by all forms of transport each morning peak, 85% of them by public transport.
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