Until 4 January 2011, the only way individual motorists could pay for the London congestion charge was to prepay - in effect a declaration based model whereby one paid (either online, by phone or over the counter) for a day or more use of the roads within the congestion charge zone. If you didn't drive on that day, it didn't matter. This prepayment meant that money was collected regardless of usage, and meant that earlier inaccuracies with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology did not weaken overall revenues.
You see one of the earlier issues was that the cameras originally introduced in 2003 only reliably detected and read a number plate around 60% of the time. Given the average trip usually saw a vehicle pass by 2.5 cameras, this wasn't much of a problem, but by requiring everyone to prepay it eliminated the issue except for enforcement purposes. However, since then the cameras have been replaced and the accuracy levels have significantly improved (I believe around 75%-80% on average but cannot confirm).
One of the pledges of the current London Mayor, Boris Johnson, on being elected was to make it easier to comply with the congestion charge. So from 4 January 2011 for a £10 registration fee, motorists will be able to set up detection based accounts which will charge based purely on usage. In other words if your vehicle is detected within the charging zone during charging hours (and you are registered) you will be charged automatically with a £1 discount (reason presumably being because the payment details already exist, and automatic debits are cheaper to process than individual one off payments).
This change is one of several occurring on that date which includes:
- An increase in the base charge to £10 (£9 for detection based accounts);
- Termination of the Western extension charging zone, reducing the congestion charge to its original size.
No doubt this will reduce compliance costs for users, and will be of great benefit to motorists. However, the financials wont add up unless the savings from automatic direct debits are more than enough to make up the losses from the handful of vehicles that wont be detected on their trips. Even 75% accuracy of ANPR cameras (and I would have thought London should be pushing 85% nowadays) with average 2.5 readings should be enough.
I will write more about the other London changes later.
Details of these changes are in this leaflet.