The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, claimed yesterday that the capital's congestion charge had been vindicated, after figures showed traffic had been cut 16 per cent in the first three months.
Traffic ran faster and congestion was cut by 40 per cent but the findings were challenged by motoring organisations. They claimed congestion had been cut because of changed timings at traffic lights and fewer roadworks.
The £5-a-day experiment, closely watched by cities around the world, just surpassed the expected 15 per cent cut in traffic, figures from Transport for London (TfL) show. The average speed of vehicles in the zone was 11mph, compared with 9mph a few weeks before the charge was introduced, and 8mph in February 2002.
TfL said an average of 110,000 people a day paid the charge. The 800 cameras have led to 20,000 fines a week for non-payers. The mayor's spokesman said they were solving enforcement problems, with more cars likely to be clamped and towed. Mr Livingstone said: "These results confirm traffic congestion and journey times for motorists, bus passengers, and business journeys are significantly reduced inside and outside the congestion-charging zone.
"This is great news for everyone who travels into central London. Even those who were previously sceptical are now able to clearly see the benefits the scheme has brought."
But the AA Motoring Trust said speeds were "shameful". A spokesman said: "In the days of the horse and cart, traffic speeds were higher than that." It also disputed the level of cuts in traffic. "We believe congestion is low because traffic lights have been rephased and there are fewer roadworks, so it is going to make a difference. If this had been done before congestion charging was brought in, there may have been reduced congestion."
Businesses are divided over the effects of the charge. The London Chamber of Commerce said it had deterred shoppers. But London First, which represents more than 300 businesses, education and health institutions, said that fewer than one in 10 companies had lost business.
"A recent survey showed that 70 per cent of our members said that the congestion charge was having no impact on their business, [but] 23 per cent said it had had a positive effect and just 9 per cent said that it had had a negative effect," the group said.
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