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Congestion Charging – the Great Failure

As a central London resident I have made a special study of the real effects of the CC scheme – and have made impassioned pleas not to introduce Congestion charging in Cambridge and in Manchester, which is currently proposed.

The Huge Cost:

It is likely that the cost has been in excess of £450m – far higher than its projected costs.

The administration charges of the CC scheme have been huge – far larger than the figures presented at the outset - and now 90% of income comes from fines, not revenue.

Due to the tiny number of motorists – the amount of income will never pay the initial costs, nor the ongoing costs, of the scheme, and nor will it ever contribute to ‘improving London’s transport’ as we were promised by Ken Livingstone years ago.

It has created an Economic Wasteland:

Hundreds of small, family owned retailers – butchers, bakers, confectioners, garage repair shops, specialist card shops and many others – have gone out of business in the Congestion Zone because their lifeblood – passing trade – evaporated.

London is now a ghost town compared to its wonderfully hectic life in the 1990s. The impact on business has been nothing short of disastrous. The whole of central London has been transformed into a true ‘doughnut’ economy – with far fewer people on the streets – and a large number of small, family-owned shops – all dependent on passing trade – going out of business. Just look at the Paddington Street district of Marylebone. These have been replaced by chains such as Starbucks and McDonald’s. In short, Ken Livingstone is the first city leader since Pol Pot to have successfully emptied his city – and I’m not exaggerating in any way.

Imposed only in Tory Areas:

Ken Livingstone – notorious for his hatred of anyone associated with the Conservative Party – imposed the Congestion Charge ONLY in Tory areas – Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea – and not in the much more congested areas of Camden and Islington – where 200 Labour MPs have their London homes. Camden Council and Labour MPs said “Over our dead bodies”, whenever introduction was proposed.

Huge Inefficiencies:

There have been huge technical problems with number plate recognition. Tens of thousands of motorists who had never visited London received Penalty Charge Notices because the cameras and computers could not distinguish between a Nought and a Zero! Farmers in Wales received them – astonishing – often with letters threatening bailiffs.

Worse, motorists cannot appeal until after the fine has been issued – only after the fine has reached more than £500 or more. This is blatant force.

In the start-up phase, few of the phonelines for residents were free – forcing thousands to queue up for hours at temporary offices in Westminster Council and other centres. Very often documentation was not accepted and two visits were required.

Worse still, more than 550 new traffic light systems have been installed in central London – and many of these stay at red for more than 30 seconds – causing a widespread collapse in traffic flow levels in the capital. The dislocation has been entirely deliberate: taxis now spend up to 30% of their time sitting at traffic lights – very often when there are no pedestrians in sight.

In addition to the CC scheme, Ken Livingstone and TfL put into place the largest roadworks programme of any capital city in the western world during his two terms.

He altered (at an agonisingly slow pace) almost every junction, pedestrian crossing and major interchange around London – nearly all of these were narrowed, strangling traffic flow levels. (Vauxhall Bridge interchange, Finchley Road – London’s key route north cut to one lane in both directions).

The Trafalgar Square disaster:

The closure of Trafalgar Square – central London’s key west-east trunk road route – has also been disastrous. The works in the square took more than two years – longer than the completion of the Hoover Dam in the US. Again, many observers believe this was deliberate.

The result? Trafalgar Square is much emptier and less used than before. Ken Livingstone has spent many millions of pounds staging very poorly attended events in the square at weekends – events often aimed at obscure minority groups with a few hundred attendees at most. The closure of Trafalgar Square – central London’s key west-east trunk road route – has also been disastrous. The works in the square took more than two years – longer than the completion of the Hoover Dam in the US. Again, many observers believe this was deliberate.

Weekend Road Closures:

Ken Livingstone often used his powers to close off ALL of the lanes in major roads in central London on Saturdays for various protest marches. In the past, during the big marches of the 1980s, the Police always kept one lane open to facilitate movement by London buses, National Coach vehicles and local residents.

The economic cost of these closures is very high indeed. Hundreds of National Bus coaches, containing a total of 40,000 travellers each Saturday, are diverted to south London in order to reach the terminus of Victoria Bus Station. On average, two hours can be added to each journey – a huge inconvenience to all. In addition, the 150,000 car-owning residents in the centre are cut off – both from leaving the centre and from returning during the day. Hundreds of motorists have been trapped for hours due to Ken’s closures.

False Statistics on the Congestion Charge:

Tfl and Ken Livingstone released completely false figures regarding the ‘success’ of the CC scheme – so much so that British newspapers clearly believed it had been a success.

How did this happen? The traffic figures on the ‘improvements’ were fudged – because levels of traffic flows were ‘estimated’ during the school term time, when traffic levels are far higher than during school holidays. It is claimed that a cut of ‘10%’ has been achieved – anyone who lives in London can see little difference in traffic levels.

Secondly, in the run-up to introducing congestion charging, the phasing and timing of many traffic lights in London were altered to increase congestion, and were changed back to their earlier settings after charging was introduced. No wonder traffic flows improved, and how blatantly dishonest was that ploy.

The true picture emerged when pedestrian traffic and sales figures for John Lewis’ flagship Oxford Street store showed sharp reductions following the introduction of the Congestion Charge.

© 2008 Marcus Gibson