London's car charge hailed as a triumph

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The Independent Online

Traffic congestion in central London has been reduced by 32 per cent while cars are travelling more than a third faster, according to a report into the first six months of the city's congestion charging scheme to be published in the autumn.

The scheme, which began exactly six months ago today, is being hailed by its proponents as a huge triumph. Its success will be scrutinised by other congested cities.

Transport for London claims there are now 38 per cent fewer cars and 20 per cent fewer vans and lorries entering the zone daily.

However, new figures from Trafficmaster, a company that monitors road speeds, show that reducing traffic inside the zone has simply led to greater congestion outside it.

The company compared journey times on 12 routes into London over the past six months to times for the same months in 2002.

One of the worst examples is the journey time on the A23 from Hooley in Surrey to Brixton, south London, which rose from 38 to 62 minutes over the course of this year.

A spokeswoman for the Mayor of London's office, however, dismissed the study: "Trafficmaster are looking at routes miles away from the zone, where traffic is affected by local factors such as road works that have nothing to do with the charge."

Transport for London's figures show:

* The £5 congestion charge has been paid by 110,000 motorists each day; 441,000 fines were issued; more than 100,000 remain unpaid.

* £66m is the expected yearly income from the charge; £130m was predicted.

* Capita, the firm responsible for running the charge, was paid £31m in public money to make up for loss of revenue.