Thursday 21 July 2011

Durham updates UK's first congestion charge scheme

It is widely assumed that London implemented the UK's first congestion charging scheme, but that honour actually goes to Durham.  Durham County Council implemented the scheme on the tiny historic centre of the city, on Saddler Street on the peninsula in the River Wear.   The charge has been £2 between 1000 and 1600 Monday to Saturday and has been policed using a raised bollard in the centre of the street.  It is specifically designed to protect the historic centre of the city, which includes Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle, from hoards of tourists in cars, by encouraging them to park elsewhere and walk.    It is a road that typically had only 3,000 vehicles a day, but 17,000 pedestrians (and only one lane), so is truly a charge on a very small scale.   It is credited with reducing traffic on the road by a staggering 85%, indicating how little real benefit was gained from most motorists driving on the road (and with vehicle numbers cut to less than 600).

All the details of the scheme are here, on the Durham County website.

Charging zone, (courtesy of the BBC)
However, changes have just been implemented to update it.  In January, Journal Live reported that the Durham County Council was considering two changes to the scheme.  One to increase the price to £5, which has been slammed by the Automobile Association.  There has been no report since of whether the increase will occur.

The other change (which has been implemented), has been to replace the bollard based cash system with ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) based charging, similar to what exists in London.   This will avoid complaints about vehicles being damaged by driving over the bollard, which then is forced up into the car!  Though frankly, if people are so stupid as to want to evade bollards, they get what they deserve.  The key benefit will not only be avoiding damage from bollards (which means a vehicle is blocking the road until it can be removed), but also the delays of vehicles having to slow down to pay the charge and await the lowering of the bollard.  It will then be the UK's third fully electronic free flow road pricing system (after the London Congestion Charge and the London Low Emission Zone).

4WD vs bollard - see who wins
The charge is currently suspended, whilst a major upgrade of the area is underway, but it will recommence on 29 August according to the Northern Echo.  The charge will be £2 payable until 6pm the following day.  Failure to pay will result in a £30 fine. 

Automatically exempt vehicles include motorcycles, postal delivery vehicles and emergency vehicles.  Vehicles eligible for exemption (but requiring registration) include Blue Badge (disabled) holders, specific NHS (National Health Service) vehicles,  taxis, roadside recovery vehicles, registered local bus services and the Mayor's official vehicles.  A limited number of vehicles owned by residents and businesses within the area can also register for an exemption.

Durham's scheme is, of course, tiny and quaint, but does show how pricing can be used to manage demand even on a small scale, and be quite successful.   Total gross revenues are obviously small, being around £300,000 p.a. (excluding enforcement revenue).  So this is clearly NOT about money.