Congestion “continually increasing” in charge zone

BBC NEWS: Congestion rises in c-charge zone

Shock horror: figures cited in a speech cited by Ken Livingstone (mayor of London) himself, in a speech at City Hall today, show that congestion has gone up, year on year, since the congestion charge was introduced in 2003:

While there are 20% fewer cars compared with before the scheme went live in 2003, congestion has continually risen.

In its first year congestion was down 30% on pre-charge levels but in 2006 it was 8% lower than in 2002.

Mayor Ken Livingstone said extra congestion was due to a rise in roadworks but the Tories blamed his policy of extra bus lanes.

He also suggested that works on the water system, involving digging up and replacing old mains, have played their part in increasing congestion.

My own hunch is rather simpler: if there are fewer cars but there is more congestion, the likelihood is that the congestion is caused by bigger vehicles, like buses, trucks and (in particular) taxis. Of course, firms have no choice but to send the trucks in when the charge is active, because that’s when businesses are open.

However, when I was delivering parcels in the City in 2001, it seemed that a huge proportion of the congestion there was being caused by the big black taxis, which are exempt from the charge. Any time I have driven in the zone, I have found that most of the traffic consisted of commercial vehicles - in some places, there are huge jams consisting entirely of buses, while in others, it’s big taxi jams.

Perhaps the real reason is that traffic is being forced into certain roads because other roads are closed off for “traffic calming” or - as in the case of the approach to Southwark Bridge in the City - anti-terrorist reasons? Perhaps the C-charge is doing its job, keeping the private traffic out of the centre of town so that people who need to use the roads in that area can do so.

Still, I never thought congestion charging was the way to go: what was needed was something squarely aimed at commuter traffic, preferably the removal of their parking spaces. The zone presently includes substantial residential areas, especially on the south side of the River - and this will increase dramatically when it is expanded next week. I support cutting it back drastically to the commercial “hot spots” north of the river, abolishing the charge on commercial vehicles while keeping it on commuters - but I guess it doesn’t just have to do its job, it has to be “economical”.

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