Whitelegg proposes radical overhaul and extension of congestion charge in London.

This report by Professor John Whitelegg scrutinizes the possibilities for developing the existing London congestion charge as a response to concerns about future levels of congestion, air pollution and health and economic efficiency. These concerns are important policy considerations at any time but against a background of forecast increases in population and economic activity in the Greater London area they become more important still. World Streets is more than pleased to share this original work with our readers, not less because we take a strong stance against the introduction of technology-based road pricing in cities of the Global South, where it is our view here are more effective ways of achieving the goals of traffic reduction and much-needed new sources of income for public and non-motorised transport. Let’s see what John has to say in this timely report from a London perspective.

“Put in very clear language it is our view that a London-wide road pricing scheme is essential and without it congestion will worsen, air pollution will worsen, the legal consequences of failing to meet air quality standards will grow in severity and fall on the GLA, the health of Londoners will suffer, CO2 reduction targets will be missed and London will stand no chance whatsoever in achieving “best in class” status that it so richly deserves. If this scenario unfolds in this way the consequences will be more severe still because competitor cities are not marking time. They are racing ahead. Almost every major European city is already achieving the success that London may find elusive and the gap will widen and London will slip further down the rankings at an accelerating pace with unwelcome consequences for jobs and inward investment.”

Pay as you go: managing traffic impacts in a world-class city

This report was commissioned on behalf of London Assembly member, Darren Johnson AM by his support team at the London Assembly. It was undertaken by Eco¬Logica Ltd, Lancaster. It was written by Professor John Whitelegg and reviewed by Professor Phil Goodwin and Professor Chris Nash.

As a result of many years of effort to reduce traffic congestion and create an attractive choice environment for walking, cycling and public transport, travel within central London now has a majority of movement by public transport, walking and cycling.

But in spite of this, car traffic still has a dominating presence even in the centre and London as a whole still presents a strong image of a car dependent city with all the negative environmental and quality of life consequences that flow from this. Traffic levels are high enough to deter walking and cycling and the perception of danger on London’s roads is high.

High traffic levels are an obstacle to a more sustainable, low carbon city future and contribute to a number of negative health and environmental effects that detract from quality of life in London. Air pollution and noise levels in London are linked to a number of serious health consequences and dealing with these public health problems requires a step increase in traffic reduction and traffic danger reduction interventions.

It is also accepted that the economy of London is damaged by congestion and the perception that street quality, accessibility and environmental impacts may not be as good as could be experienced in Frankfurt, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Vienna or Zurich. Economic damage occurs through the loss of inward investment, the flight of existing jobs out of the GLA area, the loss of time in business trips and the uncertainties and costs surrounding logistics in a congested city environment.

Projections for congestion growth in London up to 2031 (“Briefing on projections for congestion growth in London up to 2031 and current policy responses, Report to Transport Committee, 28 February, 2011) are a cause for concern and require some bold thinking about policies to reduce congestion at a time when population and economic activity are likely to be growing. The Transport Committee report of 28.2.11 draws the attention of policy makers to a possible 20% increase in congestion in the next 20 years, an economic loss of £2-£4 billion pa as a result of congestion and 4000 deaths pa as a result of air pollution:

“..over 4000 deaths in London each year are in part attributable to poor air quality”
Para 3.5 of “Briefing on projections for congestion growth in London up to 2031 and current policy responses”, Report to GLA Transport Committee, 28 February, 2011

This is a remarkable and unacceptable catalogue of problems that sits uneasily with the aspiration that London will be “the best big city in the world” (Boris Johnson in the GLA 2010-2012 Strategic Plan, Update for 2011-12, Final Version, June 2011, Appendix 1).

Making London “the best city in the world” absolutely requires significant progress with all the issues raised under the congestion heading. The existing congestion charge has been in existence since February 2003 and is widely regarded as successful. It certainly ranks as a significant achievement in a world class city and has been considered for adoption in New York, copied in Stockholm and is in the

design stages in Toronto and Milan. All the political parties in the recent Danish election are committed to introducing congestion charging. The congestion charge in its present form brings a number of advantages that are of special relevance to London, but the big question is whether these same advantages can be expanded greatly by wider implementation over more parts, or the whole, of London.

Advantages that can be claimed for this include:

  • It reduces traffic levels and this reduction makes a welcome contribution to reducing air pollution, noise and greenhouse gases
  • Half a century after the last major public health and quality of life intervention in London there is another challenge to be dealt with. London was a pioneer in the 1952/53 debate about the urgent need to reduce or eliminate deaths from the infamous “pea-souper smog” and policy makers responded boldly to that threat. 4000 Londoners died in the 1952 smog episode and this led to the Clean Air Act of 1956 to eliminate this threat. London now faces another challenge. There is clear evidence (House of Commons, 2011) that 4000 Londoners are dying each year as a result of poor air quality that is almost entirely generated by traffic. Pay as you go pricing can play a significant role in reducing this number
  • It sends a powerful message to all 7.6 million Londoners that something is being done to bring about an improvement in quality of life and that year-on¬year increases in traffic are simply not acceptable and that the alternatives to the car work perfectly well in this city. Business as usual is no longer an option.
  • It generates a stream of revenue that is available for investment in public transport, walking and cycling and this supports sustainable transport objectives. This hypothecation of revenue is crucially important and must continue. It encourages a higher level of public support than would be the case if it were “just another tax”. Public support is very closely linked to concepts of fairness and equity. In the context of London with millions of trips being made by public transport, walking and cycling it is self-evidently fair to levy a charge on the much smaller number of car trips that cause a much larger environmental burden than non-car trips. If that revenue is then deployed for the benefit of all Londoners and for a cleaner, greener London then that is likely to win and retain public support.

Given the fact that Londoners are used to congestion charging and that the charging regime demonstrably contributes to improvements in quality of life it is appropriate to explore the possibility of extending the charge or a road pricing variant of the charge across the whole GLA area. There is currently nothing else on offer or even on the radar screen of transport policy that has the 5 main ingredients of what is required to deal with the severity and urgency of London’s congestion problems:

  • A policy that reduces traffic volume to an economically efficient level
  • A policy that meets with a degree of public approval
  • A policy that has been shown to deliver results
  • A policy that is widely seen as fair
  • A policy that delivers a revenue stream that can be applied to all that needs to be done to improve walk, cycle, public transport and the built environment that supports these alternatives to the car

The London congestion charge is approaching its 10th birthday. It covers 1.3% of the GLA area (not including the Western Extension Zone), it is supported by the Mayor as a possibility for future policy development (GLA, 2010, Appendix 1) and it is appropriate to carry out a “refresh” exercise to see if the range of benefits and improvements in quality of life can be extended both geographically and in terms of the numbers of those benefiting. This Eco-Logica report carries out this refresh process and argues that the time is right to extend congestion pricing or road pricing to all 7.6 million London citizens. . . .

– – – > Click here for full report

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About the author:

 Managing Director of Eco-Logica, John Whitelegg is Visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University, Professor of Sustainable Development at the Stockholm Environment Institute, and founder and editor of the Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice. Research interests encompass transport and the environment, definition of sustainable transport systems and a sustainable built environment, development of transport in third world cities focusing on the relationships between sustainability and human health, implementation of environmental strategies within manufacturing and service industry and development of environmental management standards. He has published widely on these topics. John is active in the Green party of England and Wales and is the national spokesperson on sustainable development.

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9 thoughts on “Whitelegg proposes radical overhaul and extension of congestion charge in London.

  1. “It reduces traffic levels and this reduction makes a welcome contribution to reducing air pollution, noise and greenhouse gases” – my experience is that the Congestion Charge moves congestion, air pollution and noise. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but not the success inferred.

    The recent falls in traffic volumes experienced in London, are much more likely to be attributed to the economic situation and technology, rather than the Congestion charge – as most citizens do not have need to drive into or through the Congestion charge Zone.

    TfL offers “free” parking along many of its busiest (red) routes, subsidising vehicle use. Would it not be better to look at the parking situation before congestion charging?.

    The way forward for London is to super radically improve public transport and walking and cycling infrastructures and reduce the capacity for vehicles on the streets.

  2. Should freight consolidation come before Congestion Charging, or afterwards? There is no mention of it in the report. With or without Congestion Charging, there are benefits for many businesses from consolidation.

    People have always sought to avoid taxes and other forms of payment. There is a risk that businesses will move, unless there are clear benefits to remain within the zone. Is there any evidence to suggest that the trade of small businesses (especially independent shops and restaurants) inside the Congestion Charge Zone has benefited from the charge?

  3. I wonder how many alternative solutions they compared as they drove towards this conclusion? Was the conclusion ever in doubt? I am not suggesting it was not an independent and objective piece of work, but the intro [at FreshBusinessThinking.com that has no link to the report] sounds as if the answer was identified and the study done to back up the answer.

    My observation of the congestion charge in London is that without the ability to continuously raise the fee, the effectiveness of the system is soon lost. What appears to happen is that people adjust their spending and absorb the cost of the congestion charge into what they are doing, and the effect diminishes. To keep the original impact the fee has to be raised. And raised. And again, raised.

    This can be seen in London, and also on the I-91 in California.

    A London-wide pay-as-you-go charge will suffer the same fate. Before long everyone will be paying much more money, and the pols will lose their nerve and be unable to raise it further, and the impact will diminish. And why can they not just keep raising the fee? Mainly because of the political backlash. Populist pols will promise to roll it back, and that will be the end of it’s impact.

    What is overlooked in these cases is that there is already a congestion based cost being imposed, and it is quite high, and it is not stopping the selfish behaviour. What I mean is the combination of excess fuel usage, plus the wasted time, that everyone who drives in traffic is aware of. By going into that traffic they are already paying quite a high price – willingly.

    What I think is needed is a different ‘deal’ with road users. We need to arrive at a system in which people voluntarily stop being drivers some of the time. There is no price that we can charge them to get them to this point on an ongoing basis. Perhaps we could pay them to do it. But really, for the good of the city, for the good of cities everywhere, we need to find a way that gets all to reduce the number of trips they take as drivers, especially during peak travel times.

    This idea is embryonic, and it is not yet clear to me how we get there. I am interested in your comments on it. Please be constructive. How do we get people to voluntarily reduce the frequency with which they drive?

    Think about it like this: If we could get everyone who currently drives alone to be a passenger one day out of four, there would be 25% less traffic. In most cities, 25% less traffic would be enough to get rid of the worst traffic congestion. And with that solution in place, 25% of the car-parking spaces could be repurposed as well, giving a significant economic boost to the city. Energy use would be reduced. Emissions would be reduced. Infrastructure expansion could be put on hold for several years. In fact, infrastructure expansion could be rendered un-necessary if the same deal that got the initial reduction could also achieve ongoing adjustment to an ever greater rate of passengership as travel demand grows.

    Utopian? Perhaps. Worth pursuing? Please let me know what you think.

  4. A response to Paul Minett’s questiion: “How do we get people to voluntarily reduce the frequency with which they drive?”

    I agree with the comments posted by both Ian Perry and Paul Minett. Ian states “Would it not be better to look at the parking situation before congestion charging?.” A very simple action, reducing half of all on-street parking, thereby creating a city wide bike lane, has multiple benefits. First, this provides contiguous bike infrastructure and secondly, it disables personal car use.

    The other half of the street is used strictly for loading / unloading public / shared transport vehicles and service vehicles while prohibiting personal car parking. This limits personal car use to destinations where there is off- street parking and off-street parking can be easily regulated and further expansion minimised. Such a change requires exceptional, convenient, affordable, responsive and timely public / shared transport services.

    Paul Minett states “But really, for the good of the city, for the good of cities everywhere, we need to find a way that gets all to reduce the number of trips they take as drivers, especially during peak travel times.” Drivers have no incentive to use their car if they can’t park it. This will minimize the subsidizing of personal vehicles use.

    “Think about it like this: If we could get everyone who currently drives alone to be a passenger” in a public / shared vehicle 80% to 90% of all trips, there would be transformation for all. Any potential loss of hypothecated revenue should not deter the benefits of reduced parking. Finally, the driver / delivery jobs created are green and necessary.

    Reducing on-street parking, replacing personal car convenience with shared vehicles and rededicating half of all streets to a bicycle lane is another embryonic idea.


  5. Paying to Drive or Getting Paid to NOT Drive

    The congestion pricing model is a great concept but its applicability in most places is limited due to the significant operational and implementation costs. It is difficult to justify the level of investment necessary to implement and operate in most places because congestion levels are not similar to what is seen in London. Aside from the cost limitation, there is a serious major limitation to any pricing model (congestion, tolling, or other): political push back. Demand responsive market rate parking pricing is a great alternative. The operational costs are lower and it is easier to justify in communities much smaller than London, though it still faces political push back. When done correctly, the benefits are so visible that the business community and even customers become strong supporters.

    The idea of paying not to drive is great, though implementation of such a model is difficult to design on a large public scale. There is the example of parking cash out that large employers and universities have been doing for years and states such as Rhode Island and California have recently begun offering the state employees. As far as I know, this has only been done in private markets.

    These large institutions have come to recognize that it is cheaper for them to pay people to not drive than it is to build the parking facilities needed to handle all the commuters driving alone. (This doesn’t take into account external costs to society, just hard cash costs). The savings from this program has funded the development of such things as the Google employee shuttle.

    For the institution, the provision of parking may cost $200 a month in ongoing capital, maintenance and operation costs. Even so, most employers will not charge employees the cover the cost of parking, it is accepted as a cost of doing business. Rather than building more parking at $200/month/space, places such as Stanford University have found that people will forgo driving alone when offered as little as $60 a month. A win-win for both parties. Amazingly, it has been found that people respond to the offer of direct payment to not drive more than the direct costs of driving (which they have just come to accept). At Stanford, this was so effective and provided so much savings that it allowed them to develop a campus shuttle system and avoid consuming campus land for parking while absorbing an additional 5 million square of development with no increase in traffic.

    Of course this is easier to implement in a closed ‘private’ market such as a university campus or a corporation, it is much more difficult to adapt this to a large scale public system. I am not aware of anywhere that this has been done but I recently worked on a project where we proposed a pilot program to test this “pay you to NOT drive” concept. A very popular small New England island tourist destination that has overwhelming summertime traffic congestion and no parking availability wanted to explore opportunities to reduce downtown congestion and the resulting emissions. They are serious about environmental sustainability: the island has a 106% or 109% recycling rate because it literally opened its landfill to remove recyclable materials thrown away in the past. They recognize the importance of transportation and its impact on sustainability and have a great summertime transit system and a robust walking and biking infrastructure, yet there is still overwhelming congestion.

    We were brought in to explore options for further reducing congestion and we proposed a hybrid adaptation of the demand responsive market rate parking pricing (as proposed by Prof. Donald Shoup) with a parking cash out element. Under this pilot, everyone who traveled to the downtown would pay for parking. The hourly price would vary based on the “value” of the location, the time they arrived and how long they stayed. With hefty pricing, everyone was encouraged to carpool to defer the cost, and on the other hand, encouraged to use free remote parking facilities, low-cost transit, and free walking/biking. Everyone who decided to not drive downtown (remote parkers, transit riders, pedestrians, and bicyclists) would be paid a portion of the fees collected from those driving downtown (minus the parking system administrative, operational and maintenance cost). As an example, let’s say you work downtown and have to pay $1/hour to park ($160/month) but under this model you could not drive and get $0.25/hour to not park ($40/month).

    In other words, those who chose to drive downtown would pay those who chose to not drive downtown.

    This is a new idea and has flaws but it was an attempt to implement a test for the “pay you not to drive” concept. Unfortunately, the town was unwilling to charge for parking so the pilot was not implemented. Hopefully other communities will be interested in exploring such a concept and can help develop the mechanisms for implementing not driving payments. If this happens somewhere, I will be sure to share the results with everyone here on World Streets.

    Michael M. Alba

    Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates
    116 New Montgomery Street, Suite 500
    San Francisco, CA 94105
    415-284-1544 (office)
    415-284-1554 (fax)


    Mobility | Accessibility | Sustainability

  6. The proposal for the test program was a small amount of only $2 to $3 a day because the city was worried about people taking advantage of such a system if the offer was too much. On the other hand, we were proposing significant parking charges for driving to the downtown; upwards of $30 on-street for a workday in the prime area downtown. The cost to implement would have included the provision of in-car meters with embedded GPS so it wasn’t exactly a low cost.

    The concept didn’t get beyond a proposal stage though so the details of true implementation costs were never fully explored.

  7. Strangely enough, since 1973 I and my colleagues have been improving one approach to congestion management by providing, as Paul suggests, “a system in which people voluntarily stop being drivers some of the time”: telecommuting; no cars, no congestion.

    The economics are great: lower costs and higher benefits for both employer and employees; reduced air pollution (idle cars); steadily improving technology; no huge increase in public expenditures. The necessary societal structure is also changing: an increasing fraction of the workforce, worldwide, comprises information workers whose jobs are location-independent.

    So why isn’t everyone doing it? Lack of trust between all parties. Threats to the established infrastructure. Lack of awareness that it actually works in practice. Tunnel vision: attitudes on the part of transportation demand “specialists” and others that all TDM strategies MUST include transportation, not the lack of it; we’ve ALWAYS done it this way, why change now?

    Still, Generation Alpha, having grown up with tele-working/learning/socializing will, I suspect, finally reject job offers that require frequent trips through the traffic to do…What? Communicate with people who are elsewhere? Fuggeddaboutit.

    So maybe all we have to do is wait, not expend huge amounts of resources on expanded transportation infrastructure (although repairing existing infrastructure is in order).

    Furthermore, telecommuting only covers about half of personal automobile use. Shopping, school, doctor visits, etc., are also serious motivators. Yet teleshopping, telemedicine and telelearning are making inroads even in those areas.

    Let’s keep adding options for sustainability.

  8. Great post, Jack. It is interesting that you say TDM folk have not been supportive of telecommuting. I hope we are all more generally open minded than that. Perhaps similar to ridesharing they are looking for the evidence of it ‘working’, and getting a good market share. Certainly at the rate things are going (with the roll-out of broadband for non-transportation reasons) it is getting easier and easier to participate in some types of work remotely.

    However, for some roles (where there is manufacture or assembly for instance, or to physically serve a customer such as at a retail store or in a warehouse) travel is necessary. It would be helpful (and I bet you have the data) to know the split between the types of roles that could

  9. Jack Nilles • Well, Paul, there is plenty of evidence that properly designed telecommuting programs work well. Getting a good market share depends to some extent on marketing which, as I understand it, is one of the functions of TDM organizations. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent marketing ridesharing programs but the impact of those programs seems to have been quite small. According to Alan Pisarski, the respected author of Commuting in America III “carpooling generally failed to gain or retain share” in the 1980-2000 period (I don’t have his latest results at hand but they aren’t much different). The reason? Ridesharing subjects the riders to many of the stresses of solo commuting and imposes further restrictions on their travel. As far as I know, near zero dollars have been spent on educating commuters and, more importantly, their bosses about the benefits of telecommuting.

    As to roles, you are absolutely correct. Not all jobs and not all jobholders are suitable for telecommuting. The key job characteristic for telecommuting success is location independence: the characteristic of the job tasks that they can be accomplished essentially anywhere. You can check the JALA International web site (http://www.jala.com/telepickertest1.php) for a quick check on your job. Fundamentally, telecommuting is confined to information workers, the group that constitutes about 60% of the workforce of developed economies. Further, some fraction of the information workforce jobs require (at present) enough face-to-face interaction so that they are location dependent; non-telecommutable. That leaves about 40% to 50% of the developed country workforces that have telecommutable jobs. As I commented earlier, that share will continue to grow in all countries.

    In any case, my main point was that there are inexpensive social and physical technologies for congestion reduction that are tried and proven but that get far less emphasis than they are warranted. I have been haranguing Eric about this since the early 1990s. To paraphrase GE’s motto: Patience is our most important product.

    The problem is that global warming may not give us the luxury of patience. Stop driving that carbon producer.


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