City Tolls – Controversial but necessary?

Like many other world capitals, London’s officials face great challenges when it comes to building efficient transport infrastructures to ensure business mobility. Congestion and limited parking hinder moving traffic to the extent that even car enthusiasts contemplate switching to public transport. In addition congested traffic results in less mobility, higher pollution, and lower quality of live.

The world’s biggest congestion charge scheme

What would be the adequate solution to face these mobility challenges? In 1964, the government’s Smeed Report[1] first recognized the problems caused by the enormous number of cars working their way through London every day. However, it was not until nine years ago when the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, implemented the London Congestion Charge. All cars travelling within the Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ) are required to pay a standard fee of 10 £ per day. Failure to pay, results in significant penalty costs. How does the system work? Upon entry, every car’s number plate is saved by CCTV coverage and hence sent to the database of registered fee payers. If a number plate cannot be allocated to a payer, a penalty fee is charged. The only exception is made for car sharing providers, as the applicable fee already includes the congestion charge. This can be a very handy workaround for all those who want to enjoy business mobility but who refuse to pay extra charges for travelling the heart of London[2].

How Singapore does it

Let`s take a look at other nations and their schemes to cut traffic: The city-state of Singapore was the first country to put the idea of a congestion charging system into practice in 1975. The Area Licence System (ALS) which charged drivers for unlimited mobility within the city centre was the state’s first congestion charge scheme. It was operated manually at specific tollbooths – with huge immediate success: it led to a direct 45% reduction in traffic and a 25% decline in accidents involving cars.[3] However, the system, initially celebrated, posed two immense problems: the large amount of manpower needed was expensive and as the passage for each and every motor vehicle had to be regulated one by one, the whole procedure took a lot of time. Therefore, the ALS was replaced by a more effective electronic system in 1998: the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) program. In order to use this new system every driver must install an On-Board Unit (OBU) into which a Cash Card is inserted at the beginning of every journey. Surprisingly enough, the ERP has convinced 65% of commuters to use public transport rather than their motor vehicle.

Is a congestion charge the only way to solve traffic problems?

Taking London as a role model, Stockholm introduced the Stockholm congestion Tax in 2006. The Swedish system requires every driver to register at a control point before entering the tax zone and an electronic system then figures out the amount to be paid. An invoice is then sent to the driver at the end of every month.

Bycicle in Amsterdam

Despite using different systems, Singapore, London, and Stockholm are pioneers in the implementation of a congestion charge. Charging a fee for using the car within the city centre might appear crazy to some. In the end, all countries applying such a fee are obliged by law to reinvest the money into the general infrastructure and transport system. Whether other countries will follow remains uncertain. The Netherlands at least, seems to have found another way to solve the traffic problem: decades ago the Dutch invested into an extensive biking infrastructure. So why use the car when it is so much more convenient and faster to go by bike?

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