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Congestion charge ‘needs urgent reform’

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The overall annual cost to London from traffic delays on busy roads is £5.5 billion – a 30% increase on the £4.2bn reported in 2012/13.  

The cost of delays for an average vehicle is £20.83 per hour, says the London Assembly transport committee. 

Its report ‘London Stalling’ calls on the Mayor of London to reform the congestion charge and ultimately replace with it road pricing. The committee suggests a way of charging people for road usage that is targeted at areas of congestion, at the times congestion occurs.  

It’s a popular idea, with over half of road users responding to a committee survey saying they support road pricing - only a fifth was opposed.

In the short-term, the report says the congestion charge should be reformed to better reflect the impact of vehicles on congestion. The daily flat rate should be replaced with a charging structure that ensures vehicles in the zone at peak times, and spending longer in the zone, face the highest charges.

The report also recommends:

  • Reducing restrictions on night-time deliveries
  • Piloting a ban on personal deliveries for staff
  • Reconsidering ‘click and collect’ at Tube and rail stations
  • Devolving Vehicle Excise Duty to the Mayor
  • Piloting a local Workplace Parking Levy

Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the London Assembly transport committee said: “Something dramatic has to be done about the enormous congestion problem on London’s roads.

“The issue is costing our city money and costing Londoners their health and wellbeing. Transport for London (TfL) is doing a lot to tackle congestion, but not enough. Road pricing would be a fairer approach, as road users would pay according to how much they contribute to congestion.

“It’s a bold move – but our survey shows that road users are in favour and the current congestion charge is far too blunt an instrument and too narrow in scope.

“Gridlocked London needs to start moving again and tinkering here and there is not going to achieve that. A total rethink about who uses our roads and how is imperative to get the veins and arteries of our great city flowing freely again.”

However, any proposed road pricing scheme to replace the congestion charge should target drivers who have a choice whether to use London’s roads, says the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

It says that congestion is the biggest problem facing transport in London and it is pleased to see it being addressed in the committee’s report. But Christopher Snelling, FTA’s head of national and regional policy and public affairs, said FTA had concerns over the complexity of a planned road pricing scheme and the cost impact on London’s businesses and freight transport operators.

“The Assembly surveyed car drivers to see if they would change behaviour but not commercial operators,” said Snelling. “Unlike car drivers, we don’t operate at a time of our choosing but respond to customers’ requirements – ie the needs of London’s businesses. 

“If road pricing is not just to be a tax on London it needs to focus on those who have an alternative – mainly the car or taxi user. 

“Water, rail and cycle logistics can all play a useful role in places but even used to the maximum it does not change the fact that the vast majority of deliveries in London will be made by vans and lorries.”

The freight industry delivers around 400,000 tonnes of goods in London every day and each minute added to a lorry journey costs £1.  Snelling said FTA had briefed several members of the committee personally as well as submitting evidence for the report, which was generally a sensible and well thought-out set of policy suggestions. 

“We are pleased to see the issues we raised reflected in the report and we especially welcome the focus on reforming the restrictions on night time deliveries,” he said. “This has benefits for emissions and cyclist/pedestrian safety as well as congestion. The Assembly’s support for the use of consolidation centres and a workplace parking levy are also welcome.”

However, FTA challenges the association of the growth in van use with logistics. As FTA pointed out to the committee, half of van use is actually by tradespeople with tools and supplies and much of the growth in van traffic can be attributed to the growth in the service sector. 

FTA says before progressing further with ideas such as restricting personal deliveries to offices, the London Assembly and Transport for London should further investigate the exact causes of the growth in van use rather than making assumptions.

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