London shifts to reverse gear

Published: Wednesday 31 December 2008

-- Mayor scrapped congestion charge

LONDON may be headed for more traffic jams and pollution, thanks to a decision of the city's mayor. Boris Johnson recently announced scrapping an extension of the zone in London where motorists have to pay a congestion charge. While business groups celebrated the decision, opponents in the London assembly have condemned it.

Congestion charging was introduced in central London in February 2003. In February 2007, former mayor Ken Livingstone extended the area under congestion charge to include Kensington and Chelsea and parts of Westminster. The extended area is called the western congestion-charging zone. Motorists entering the areas have to pay a congestion charge of 8 pounds per day (Rs 580).

To back his decision, Johnson cited a public consultation in which over two-thirds of Londoners supported its removal. The western congestion-charging zone has led to 30,000 fewer cars on the streets per day. According to the Campaign for Better Transport, a UK advocacy group, the extension helped reduce traffic by 10 per cent. Transport for London, a government body, collects 70 million pounds (Rs 511.6 crore) of congestion charge a year.

However, Transport for London is of the view that traffic returning to the western extension, which will not be before spring 2010, would result in a small increase in vehicular emissions.

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