London just as congested despite levy on vehicles

LONDON Wed Aug 6, 2008 3:43pm EDT

A taxi drives through rush hour traffic in London August 23, 2006. London is just as congested with cars as it was five years ago before the introduction of the world's biggest traffic charging scheme. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

A taxi drives through rush hour traffic in London August 23, 2006. London is just as congested with cars as it was five years ago before the introduction of the world's biggest traffic charging scheme.

Credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - London is just as congested with cars as it was five years ago before the introduction of the world's biggest traffic charging scheme.

Transport for London (TfL), the company that runs the British capital's transport system, said traffic levels had fallen significantly since the Congestion Charge was introduced in January 2003.

But that had not eased problems for London's motorists crawling their way through the city's streets, which remain clogged by roadworks and other measures designed to help pedestrians, buses and cyclists.

"I have always thought that the Congestion Charge is a blunt instrument," said London Mayor Boris Johnson.

"It has proved successful in cutting traffic coming into London but on its own has not resolved the problem of congestion."

The London scheme has won admirers from around the world by helping to slash the number of vehicles entering the city during the weekday, with U.S. and European cities now considering similar plans.

With a few exceptions, such as taxi drivers and motorcyclists, all motorists have to pay a charge of 8 pounds ($15.65) to drive through much of central London.

Its success led to the charging area being significantly extended in 2007, raising 137 million pounds last year alone for transport improvements.

However, the charge has always been controversial, with businesses and shop owners saying it has damaged their trade.

Former Mayor Ken Livingstone had planned to raise the charge for large gas-guzzling vehicles, while allowing smaller fuel-efficient cars to enter for free. But Johnson, who took over in May, has already scrapped that idea saying it would have worsened the situation.

He said he was now working with TfL on a "comprehensive approach" to ease the congestion problem.

According to TfL's report, 70,000 fewer cars entered the original charging zone every day, a fall of 21 percent from pre-2003, with 30,000 fewer in the western extension.

But problems with traffic lights, measures to help other road users and street works carried out by utility companies meant the city was just as crowded as in pre-charge days.

"Without the Congestion Charge the traffic problems in London would be much worse," said Malcolm Murray-Clark, TfL's Managing Planning Director.

"However, as a result of other interventions such as utility and construction works, the reduction in road space has had a detrimental impact on congestion levels and is slowing traffic down."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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