As I start writing this entry, the western extension to the London congestion charge ceases. The charge is being suspended over Christmas and New Year, and will return after that in its original boundaries with a raised fee of £10. As someone who worked until recently as a driver in London, I am glad about this. The scheme always was politically motivated, intended to sting all the rich people living in west London to pay for improved public transport elsewhere. However, it always included a large residential area which is not part of any traditional definition of central London and is not full of rich people by any means, particularly the northern end of Notting Hill.
It was one of the reasons why Ken Livingstone fell out of favour in 2008, and one of the reasons I didn’t vote for him as a first choice. I was never fond of the idea of a congestion charge to begin with; I favoured restricting parking space so that commuters simply could not park in central London, while residents, traders and the disabled could. (Perhaps companies could be charged a premium to allow executive parking.) I don’t know if the mayor could have done this, though. The charge was not intended to reduce congestion at all, but to raise money.
A further problem with the charge is that it closed off a number of routes which were historical main roads, such as the route from Marble Arch to the Westway via Westbourne Terrace and Ranelagh Bridge. With the charge in place west of the Inner Ring Road, they were forced to use the already very congested Edgware Road. Other closed routes include the south end of Buckingham Palace Road, leading to Chelsea Bridge, which was outside the zone. To get from Shepherds Bush to Kensal Rise, it became necessary to go all the way up to Harlesden and back down Harrow Road, rather than using Latimer Road or North Pole Road. For those of us who had to drive in central London, it made life more difficult and less enjoyable.
It’s depressing that Labour have chosen Ken Livingstone to oppose Boris Johnson in 2012. Unless something goes very badly wrong for him, I suspect Johnson will win again, and his time in office has not been the disaster I thought it would be when he stood in 2008. Livingstone himself is an old man, and will be even older in 2016 which is when he will finish his next term if he wins in 2012. The western extension is, I suspect, something that lost Livingstone votes, and it will not do him any favours come the next election. I think Labour should have chosen someone younger, even if they served under Livingstone to begin with, who could learn from his mistakes, which I don’t think the man himself will.
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