CONGESTION charging goes live in London on Monday and fleet drivers will face a charge of £5 to enter the capital. In this special report we highlight everything you need to know about the scheme.
How it works
Congestion charging will apply between 7am and 6.30pm, Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays. The boundary of the congestion charging zone will be the 'Inner Ring Road' – linking Euston Road, Pentonville Road, City Road, Commercial Street, Mansell Street, Tower Bridge, Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall Bridge Road, Park Lane and Marylebone Road.
The cost to enter is £5 per day per vehicle, which must be paid by midnight. Once the charge is paid, you can drive in and out of the zone as many times as you like. If the charge is paid between 10pm and midnight, it goes up to £10. If a licence has not been purchased by midnight, a penalty will be issued (see Penalties section below).
There are no toll booths or gantries; instead a network of cameras capable of reading registration numbers monitors the eight square miles of the charging zone. Registration details will be instantly compared to a database holding the details of vehicles that have paid to enter the city that day.
How to pay
Pay and Go: Purchase daily licences. This is the standard option for many private drivers and fleets. Business drivers can then reclaim the cost from their employer. Licences will be available for a single vehicle for a charging day and can be bought in bulk, up to 90 days in advance. Buy them by post, internet, self-service machines, shops, over the telephone, on the internet, or even register to pay by text message.
Pay and Tell (Notification Scheme): For fleets of more than 25 vehicles, covering cars, vans and lorries. Fleets pay the £5 fee in advance, based on their estimate of vehicle movements. They then provide a list of movements at the end of the month. Transport for London (TfL) checks this list against evidence captured by the cameras and additional vehicles are then charged to the fleet's account, before a pre-payment is drawn by direct debit for the forthcoming month, taking into account any previous under or over-payment. Vehicles can be registered by phone, mail or internet, although there is a £10 annual fee for each one.
Pay and Forget (Automated Scheme): TfL should take the strain out of the charging nightmare. This is only available to commercial vehicles for a 50p per vehicle per day supplement, taking the charge to £5.50. A direct debit is taken at the start of the month calculated on previous month's usage and expected charges for the upcoming month. However, there is no need to inform TfL of all the movements in and out of the zone, as this is all done for you. Vehicles can be registered by phone, mail or internet, although there is a £10 annual fee for each one.
If you haven't paid for your licence by midnight on the day of entry, then you will be sent a penalty charge notice of £80, although cars registered on the pre-payment schemes cannot be fined. This is reduced to £40 if paid within 14 days. But if your processes are slow, for example if a fleet management company receives the bill and forgets to pass it on quickly, then 28 calendar days after issue, the fine jumps to £120. Don't forget, if you are staying in London without a licence, then the local authority can clamp and remove the vehicle, after which you can expect a bill for hundreds of pounds to release it.
There are a number of ways to ensure you pay no congestion charges. Apart from motorcycles, one of the most tempting methods for fleets is to use alternatively-fuelled vehicles. Clean fuel options, such as LPG, CNG or petrol/electric hybrids, receive a 100% discount, as long as the vehicle achieves Band 4 in the TransportEnergy PowerShift register, which pays grants to fleets to cover the extra cost of taking on alternatively-fuelled vehicles. Discounted vehicles include the Vauxhall Astra bi-fuel, Toyota Prius and new Honda Civic IMA. However, the 100% discount will be removed if too many drivers take the alternative fuel option and congestion is not reduced. Vehicles with more than nine seats are also exempt and you get a 90% discount if you live in the charging zone.
Durham already has charging. Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Edinburgh, Leeds, Leicester and Nottingham are likely to follow with some form of charging. Currently, 36 out of 150 local authorities in the UK are looking at schemes.
Congestion fact file
- The total budget to set up the scheme is £200 million, including £100 million of complementary traffic management measures being spent across Greater London.
- The zone is eight square miles in size.
- Some 40,000 vehicles an hour drive into what will be the congestion charging zone – equivalent to 25 busy motorway lanes – during morning peak (7am to 10am).
- Average traffic speeds in central London have now dipped below 10mph in the period 1998 to 2000 for the first time since records began.
- Transport for London estimates that for each week the congestion charging scheme is not in place, the capital loses about £2 million a week in terms of increased congestion and forfeits about £2.5m in net revenue that the scheme would raise to re-invest in transport.
- An estimated 100,000 calls will be made per day to the congestion charging hotline (0845 900 1234).
- The scheme is predicted to cut traffic levels inside the charging zone, measured in 'vehicle miles', by 10 to 15% and congestion, measured in 'vehicle delays', by 20 to 30%.
- Roughly 250,000 vehicles make 450,000 movements into the charging zone during the period between 7am and 6.30pm.
- Half of the 136,000 residents living within the charging zone are in car-owning households.
- More than one million people enter central London by all forms of transport each morning peak, 85% of them by public transport.
- Each weekday, 6,000 buses accommodate 4.5 million passenger journeys on 600 routes around London.
- Bus passenger travel increased by 6% in 2000/01 to 4.7 billion passenger kilometres.