London’s roads are now as gridlocked as when the congestion charge was introduced five years ago, casting doubt on the effectiveness of the system and plans for its expansion nationwide.
The charge, which sees motorists pay £8 a day to enter London at peak times, initially led to a fall in congestion.
But more roadworks and traffic calming measures have squeezed road space and caused a return to pre-charging levels, according to a report from Transport for London (TfL).
The news comes as plans are being rolled out for similar congestion charge schemes across the country (see panel).
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “I have always thought that the congestion charge is a blunt instrument.
“It has proved successful in cutting traffic coming into London but on its own has not resolved congestion.”
TfL suggested that temporary roadworks at a junction in Kensington have been a major contributory factor to congestion within the western zone.
The works are thought to have reduced road capacity at the junction by up to half.
To ease congestion in London, Mr Johnson intends to introduce “a more comprehensive approach”, including re-phasing traffic signals and allowing motorbikes in bus lanes.
He is also exercising new powers that came into force in May to fine utility companies that cause delays through badly planned work.
TfL hopes that a Paris-style bike hire scheme, which is currently at the planning stage, will encourage more Londoners to leave their cars at home in favour of cycling.
There has already been a 12% increase in cycle journeys into the western zone.
Malcolm Murray-Clark, managing director of planning at TfL, argued that without the congestion charge the traffic problems in London would be much worse.
Since the charge was introduced in 2003, followed by a western extension in 2007, 100,000 fewer cars enter central London each day.
London may be the only city to have introduced a congestion charge so far, but others are waiting in the wings.
In June, Manchester was awarded £1.5bn from the government to help pay for a scheme, allied to public transport movements.
Elsewhere, Birmingham, Bristol, Bath and Cambridge are expected to announce plans for their own schemes shortly.
LeasePlan managing director David Brennan said: “The endorsement of the Manchester scheme is the biggest step so far towards a fragmented and regionalised approach in the UK – a nightmare scenario for companies that run fleets of vehicles.”