Livingstone predicts 'difficult few days' as congestion charge begins

About 100,000 motorists are today experiencing the greatest ever experiment to ease road congestion as Ken Livingstone, the scheme's chief architect, boldly predicted there was a more than 99 per cent chance of success.

After a weekend surge in registrations from drivers heading for the city centre, the Mayor of London said he was confident that the technology powering 800 cameras and payment systems would work, but he conceded that much would rely on the adaptability of commuters over a "very difficult" few days.

By 6.30am, more than 30,000 people had paid the congestion charge for today and 50,000 had registered to pay by SMS text message.

Derek Turner, TfL managing director of street management, said: "There is likely to be some disruption and teething problems but we will do all we can to ensure that the traffic flows as smoothly as possible.

"We are also expecting that people may face delays at the call centre and would reiterate that it is not the only way to pay the charge."

Yesterday, Mr Livingstone said if the scheme proved to be a success, he planned to extend the congestion charge zone. In an interview with David Frost, he said he would enter into consultation with boroughs such as Tower Hamlets and Kensington and Chelsea to implement an expansion next year.

Mr Livingstone, who came under pressure to delay the toll until London Underground reopens the Central and Waterloo & City lines, said: "If I thought there was even a 1 per cent chance the system would fail, we wouldn't have gone ahead. The question has never been would the technology work, it is will people tolerate it."

With so much at stake, the Government maintained its non-committal stance, although Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, urged Mr Livingstone to be ready to reduce the £5 charge in case of problems. He said: "The Mayor has got the power to make changes to the scheme and it is important that he does do that as and when any problems arise."

Transport for London, the body charged with implementing the Mayor's transport strategy, scored an own goal by fining 45 motorists before the scheme started, forcing Mr Livingstone to apologise yesterday.

One motorist who was fined £120 for non-payment said he was "completely astonished and quite upset" to receive a fine notice the start of the month. Mr Livingstone told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "I plead guilty to that. It was a complete mistake. Someone pressed the wrong button on the computer and the forms went out. We have sent letters of apology and I would like to apologise personally to anyone who got a bit annoyed."

Dedicated call centres in Glasgow and Coventry were inundated at the weekend as motorists sought to register their vehicles for a discount, or pay in advance or by text message.

Transport for London said an extra 6,000 motorists had signed up for one-day or "season tickets" over the weekend, bringing the total to 26,000. About 50,000 had registered to pay by text message, compared with about 40,000 when figures were measured on Friday.

TfL estimated that 76 per cent of the 100,000 drivers expected to enter the eight-square-mile charge zone between 7am and 6.30pm today had made arrangements to pay. The remainder have until midnight tonight to register or face fines from £80 to £120.

Today Mr Livingstone will commute from his home in Cricklewood, north London, into the centre by Tube as usual, albeit accompanied by a scrum of reporters. He predicted a "very bad two or three days" on the roads at the start of the week as drivers sought alternative routes. The Automobile Association predicted this would bring heavy congestion in a three-mile-wide ring around the charging zone. The full impact may not be felt until after this week's half-term holidays.

The state of London's roads will be studied by 35 local authorities in Britain that are considering similar schemes, and by European cities such as Copenhagen, Genoa and Helsinki. Derbyshire County Council is considering Britain's first charge on rural roads to ease traffic during the tourist season in the Peak District.

The shadow Transport Secretary, Tim Collins, warned that congestion charges would be imposed elsewhere once they had been tried in London.

People wanting to pay can also visit the website at, pay at more than 1,500 retail outlets within the M25 or, if registered, pay the charge by text message.

The £5 charge can be paid any time up until 10pm. The fee then rises to £10.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home