February 18, 2004


The Australianís Peter Wilson re-defines success:

The radical traffic-busting experiment of charging pound stg. 5 ($11.95) a day for a car to drive into central London reached its first full year in operation yesterday as a raging success.

If anything, the congestion charge may have been a touch too successful because it has deterred so many drivers from going into central London - 60,000 a day, or 30 per cent of original traffic - that the revenue raised by the scheme is well down on projections.

Hooray for success!

The London Chamber of Commerce, which mainly represents small businesses, claims it has been a "substantial and negative" blow to inner-city shops, with 25 per cent of retailers saying they are considering moving out of the zone because of the charge.

Another triumph! The scheme is so successful that some are asking for alterations in the method of payment:

Such pleas have little chance of success following the disclosure last week by one of Mr Livingstone's advisers that they had deliberately made it difficult to pay the charge in order to discourage people from using the scheme.

No wonder it's so successful.

Posted by Tim Blair at February 18, 2004 09:03 PM

As Phillip Adams would say: "If this is success, try to imagine failure".

Posted by: PNN Ed at February 18, 2004 at 10:02 PM

Was just in the Smoke a couple of months ago and the Kengestion charge has made a big change.

F**k the London Chamber of Commerce - they're basically a mouthpiece for fast food outlets.

Londoners, who are even more cynical than New Yorkers, now cheerfully (OK, grudgingly) admit it has made a big difference.

You can actually park your car outside your home in Bayswater now.

And a cab fare from Kensington High St to Shaftesbury Avenue is now often below double figures.

But once again Tim, you look to the pinko media for your post input.

Posted by: Squirky at February 18, 2004 at 10:27 PM

One of the Sacred Truths of capitalism is the price/demand curve (as prices rise, demand falls) So why does a free-market based plan to discourage car use thrill the lefties? Could it be that any tool to make life more difficult for the masses is a good thing?

Posted by: George L. at February 18, 2004 at 11:04 PM

Don't forget that the press has hailed this widely as a success since its inception, so it's going to take a lot of pain before it is changed.

Posted by: charles austin at February 18, 2004 at 11:13 PM

Well thanks to the success of the charge, political hacks have lost one of their shrines: Politicos bookshop. It may be easier to get a cab these days and buses work better, however at what cost to (small) businesses?

Posted by: Andrew Ian Dodge at February 18, 2004 at 11:19 PM

Please explain why it should be changed.

It's a user pays system (also a sacred tenet of capitalism) that works for the people (as they they say themselves) who live with it.

"the press has hailed this widely as a success since its inception" - yes the most consrvative press of any OECD country and they love it - mainly 'cos their own journalists and editors can now find decent parking spots in front of their places in Notting Hill, Camden, Limehouse and St Catherine's Dock.

Oh f**k it, just go there and see for yourself. You can afford it, can't you?

Posted by: Squirky at February 18, 2004 at 11:28 PM

The issue is more complicated than the typical Left/Right name-calling that Tim suggests. UK's Adam Smith Institute is on record as providing in-principle support for the idea of congestion charges. Indeed the Adam Smith Institute was one of the original architects of Red Ken's plan, though they have some quibbles about implementation:

"Superficially, the plan we drew up for London looks a lot like what Ken is now doing. His map of the charging area is almost exactly what we proposed - we recognized that politically, it was important to get the South-of-the-River boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark in the scheme, even though the worst collection was in Westminster and the City. And there are other similarities.

Bat timing. But lots of bad ideas have crept in. For example, the London charge runs from early morning to early evening. We suggested it should be restricted to peak times only, which is when the worst congestion is. It's 11am and as I look out of my window in Westminster's Great Smith Street, I've seen precisely five cars go by in the last 60 seconds. When I look out at 8am, though, it's nose to tail. So why keep the charge running all day? With a peak charge, drivers can spread their journeys to less congested times. With an all-day charge, you might as well continue to come in at 8am because it costs just as much to delay. And people on low incomes don't get any option at all.

Moreover, the charge cuts out just as the West End is getting busy in the evening as people make their way into Theatreland"

See also http://www.adamsmith.org/cissues/transport/roadspace.htm
and more recently http://www.adamsmithblog.org/archives/000226.php
However Timbo is opposed to all road pricing. Verdict: Timbo is either a socialist or a muddle headed polemicist who doesn't even understand the ideas he claims to defend.

Posted by: Jason Soon at February 18, 2004 at 11:43 PM

One problem with defending these charges as "free market" fees is that there is no market in road use. The state has a monopoly, if you haven't noticed, in creating and allowing use of the roads. Thus, the fee is not so much a fee for services rendered as it is a tax imposed by a monopolist who will take your car if you don't pay. This is not the market in action, this is the government in action, and it is not really that difficult to tell the difference.

Further, the congestion fee represents double taxation. Those roads were already paid for by taxpayers as a public good, and now some of those taxpayers are being asked to pay again. And again, and again.

Predictably, the long-term effect of this government plan will be to drive out the free market, as small shop owners flee London.

As a libertarian, I see exactly nothing to support in all this.

Posted by: R C Dean at February 19, 2004 at 12:12 AM

Utter CRAP. I live in Central London, and it means I have to pay to use my car every day!! Red Ken can go and shove a bomb up his A**E. Even large retailers like John Lewis have had a 9% drop in its yearly revenue since the congestion charge was introduced to London!!!!!! Small business have suffered the most. Guess the little weasel won't be compensationg for that, will he????

Posted by: koranistoiletpaper at February 19, 2004 at 12:16 AM

It's genuinely surprising, even to me, just how easy it is to ignore Jason Soon.

Posted by: tim at February 19, 2004 at 12:48 AM

But Tim, I am intrigued by Jason Soon's reference to "bat timing". More on this, please.

Posted by: TIMKS at February 19, 2004 at 05:00 AM

Bat timing? Is the guano trade involved?

Posted by: Sortelli at February 19, 2004 at 07:45 AM

Cities are built on commerce.But Red Ken likes neither capital nor commerce.

Given the collapse of the Tory effort at the election which saw Red Ken voted in, it was boggling voters none-the-less did so. That it was more in the way of shaking a fist at the L.P. fits the bill, cutting off nose to spite face. More so in view of red ken's record in local govt.And now the city is still stuck with.Hell's bells with nobs on.

Posted by: d at February 19, 2004 at 08:53 AM

It sounds like the sort of scheme that Jeff Kennett would have come up with, user-pays roads. Makes the majority happy, displeases the minority, tada!: democracy in action.

I'm fucked if I can see why Tim's against it. Oh, that's it, the pro-car thing that comes in the junior PJ O'Rourke kit.

Pro guns, pro war, pro cars, pro the US, pro Israel; anti Labor, the environment, Arabs, the red menace. A toy drum beaten to the same beat endlessly, no matter what. Yawn, yawn, yawn.

Posted by: Bruce, no, Robert actually at February 19, 2004 at 09:38 AM

Bruce, u blind bat, obviously you are incapable of seeing sense!

Posted by: koranistoiletpaper at February 19, 2004 at 10:30 AM

Yes, you are correct. I bow before the sheer weight of facts you being to bear. I simply can't compete with a collosal wit like yours. Surely you sir are are the wisest man on the internet. I flee.

Posted by: Bruce, no Robert actually at February 19, 2004 at 12:07 PM

Bruce/Robert, you aren't even sure what your name is. Why should we think anything you have to say is important?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at February 19, 2004 at 12:25 PM

Bruce/Robert/Bob/Brubot, has answered that one Andrea, he `bow(s) before the sheer weight of facts...(and) can't compete...(so) flees'. A circumlocution by Brubot for, no need to query his weighty intellect, it's non-existent.

Posted by: d at February 19, 2004 at 12:42 PM

Oh no, Andrea's wheeled herself out! The real fucking intellectual heavyweight of the discussion boards. Crushing logic Andrea.

Posted by: Jim at February 19, 2004 at 02:43 PM

I'm in favour of the tax. They have something similar in Singapore, a special registration fee,required if you wantto drive in the CBD. It works well in keeping cars out. I don't see business suffering as a result. Of course, Singapore is a small city. The restrictions on owning and driving a vehicle there are draconian, but they make the city very liveable. They also have good public transport systems, unlike Australian cities.

Posted by: Rob (No.1) at February 19, 2004 at 03:26 PM

Speaking of Australian cities, Melbourne has the best of both worlds. Step into either of its central pedestrian zones, Bourke Street Mall or Swanston Street Mall (both of which have banned 'private' traffic but allow all other kinds, and you are likely to be struck by a bus, delivery van, crazy cyclist, courier vehicle or taxi; or, if you're really lucky, that Melbourne tourist icon, a tram.

Posted by: ilibcc at February 19, 2004 at 04:04 PM

Londoners are about to join Melbournians in the dubious delights ilibicc, ripping up roads, wahcking in Trams. Hate the damn things. All the crap about congestion, raod safety, when those mobile whales casue traffic jams and damn do their best to kill any body . I've been on the receivng end of close calls. freinds have also. Another was luckier, enjoyed the thrill of sitting in a well built machine reduced to the size of a sardine can -how the hell the firend managed to walk out alive was a rare stroke of luck.

Fuck the trams. rip em up and save good ol' taxpayer a fortune to boot .

Posted by: d at February 19, 2004 at 05:08 PM

Makes the majority happy, displeases the minority, tada!: democracy in action.

Hrm... Therefore slavery is also democracy in action. Facsinating.

Posted by: Sortelli at February 19, 2004 at 07:33 PM

d and ilibcc,

Do trams kill/hurt more people than those getting hurt killed in car accidents? Obviously not in absolute terms, but on a per capita usage basis, anyone seen in figures?


Posted by: Steve at February 19, 2004 at 10:41 PM