The most controversial transport policy in modern times reached its fifth anniversary today with its architects claiming that the congestion charge has helped London become the only major city in the world to see a real shift away from private cars to public transport, cycling and walking.
Data from the Department for Transport suggests that during the first year of the charge, traffic was steadily reduced in central London, after which it began to creep back up, although it is still below 2000 levels. Before congestion charging began, on 17 February 2003, 334,000 vehicles entered the area each day. Transport for London said traffic was now down by 21 per cent, with 70,000 fewer vehicles a day coming into the city centre. In the western extension of the congestion charge zone, which came into effect on 19 February last year, traffic is down by up to 15 per cent on 2006 levels.
Oslo and Trondheim in Norway may have been the first places to introduce a congestion charge, but it is London's scheme that has captured imaginations worldwide. Stockholm and Milan have now introduced similar schemes, and the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, visited London in October to find out how charging could be made to work in his city. In the UK, Bristol, Manchester and Durham have either already introduced some form of road pricing or asked for government funding with a view to introducing it.
"Congestion charging has worked. It has cut traffic congestion and pollution and has increased bus and bike use," said Tony Bosworth, transport spokes-man for Friends of the Earth. "[The Mayor of of London] Ken Livingstone has shown political courage to do something about the problem of congestion, and what we need now is for the Government to show the same courage with national transport policy."
And while traffic in central London is reduced, more people than ever are turning to alternatives as the fruits of congestion charging are ploughed back into public transport, with £123m raised last year.
A record one billion passengers a year are now using the Tube and there has been a 45 per cent increase in bus use between 2000 and 2006, following improvements to the number of routes, the frequency of buses and bus lanes.