Monday, 20 December 2010

London congestion charge changes in January 2011

On 4 December 2010 I posted about one of the major changes to the London Congestion Charging scheme that will come into effect on 4 January 2011 - the introduction of detection based accounts.

However, there are a wider range of changes which affect the geography, pricing and the discounts/exemptions to the scheme as well.  These are:
- Removal of the western extension of the original congestion charge zone (and removal of eligibility of residents in the zone for the residents' discount);
- Increase in the basic charge price from £8 (US$12.41) to £10 (US$15.51);
- Introduction of a 100% Greener Vehicle Discount which will apply to vehicles that emit less than 100g/CO2 per 100 km and meet at least the Euro 5 standard (for a £10 annual fee) to replace the Alternative Fuel Discount which is currently in place for vehicles powered by electricity;
- Extending the 100% Electric Vehicle Discount to plug-in hybrid vehicles;
- Introducing a £10 registration charge for the 9+ seat 100% discount.

Of these, the first two (and detection based accounts) will have the biggest impact.  The abolition of the Western extension was an election promise of London Mayor Boris Johnson, as it is widely believed the extension was imposed by the previous Mayor Ken Livingstone because it targeted a part of London that is particularly wealthy (and not particularly supportive of Livingstone) rather than targeting congestion.

The new map of the charging zone is here (PDF), but is essentially identical to the original charging zone.   The impact is expected (according to a firm which is my namesake) to be an increase in traffic of between 6% and 12% in the zone (15% to 21% increase in congestion), and  and a loss of £55 million in net revenue.   However, the overall London impact is expected to be only a 0.5% increase in traffic (up to 4% increase in delays).   Why?  Because there will be a reduction in congestion in the central congestion charge zone.

The reason is because the residents of the Western charging zone will no longer be eligible for the residents' discount of 90%, which has applied to them for all driving within the London congestion charging scheme.  As most of the Western charging zone is residential, the effect is modelled to be a 1-2% decrease in traffic in the central zone and a 2-3% decrease in delays in the central zone.   So the impact will be very mixed.

Of course this will be moreso, as the price is increased:
- £10 for travel paid in advance or on the day of travel (currently £8);
- £12 if paid up till midnight the following day (currently £10);
- £9 if detection based account automatically paid;
- 90p for those eligible for residents' discount if detection based (currently 80p if pre-registered);
- No more new monthly or annual prepaid discounts.  Regular users are encouraged to register for detection based accounts;
- £9 daily for Fleet autopay (currently £7).

The net effect of all of these will be to increase revenue and have a modest effect on demand.   Note that the original effect of the central charging scheme has been severely diluted according to Transport for London because:
- Widespread roadworks due to water and gas pipe replacement has reduced network capacity; and
- Measures to reallocate road capacity to pedestrians, cyclists and buses have effectively reduced network capacity.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the current Western zone once the congestion charge is gone, as to whether congestion increases significantly, and whether the countervailing increases in charges will mitigate this (bear in mind that demand for the central zone affects demand along the corridors through the Western zone).

It would appear unlikely that any future extension of congestion charging in London will be as blunt as creating new area charges (London is not a cordon charge scheme, as it charges movements within as well as across zone boundaries).  

However, in the current economic climate there is little likelihood of much political appetite to do this, even though congestion on London's ancient road network remains severe and chronic throughout the metropolis.

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