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Debate - Congestion charging

Congestion charging in London could be introduced within 18 months, but fears remain that the perimeter route may not be able to cope with increased traffic.

This week we ask: Does London's proposed congestion charging zone need a free route through the middle for commercial vehicles and HGVs?

The facts

The zone will be policed by digital cameras which will photograph the number plates of all vehicles entering the zone and match them up with a database of number plates that have paid the charge. The system is expected to be at least 80% effective. Non payment will result in an £80 fine.

The Greater London Authority is expected to confirm plans to charge cars £5 and HGVs £7.50 to enter a central London zone later this month when it unveils its transport strategy for London.

Congestion charging in London would raise an estimated £250M a year to be spent only on improving and subsidising public transport in the capital.

Yes

Irving Yass, director of policy and transport, London First London First strongly supports the Mayor's proposal to introduce congestion charging in central London. It is also agreed that there should be a perimeter road that enables traffic with no business in the central area to divert round it without having to pay.

For central London this diversion route is the Inner Ring Road. But to most Londoners it is a mystery - if any contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire is asked where it is they had better have the phone number of one of the handful of people in Transport for London who knows the answer.

In fact, the inner ring is a collection of roads of variable quality, which include a number of congestion black spots. The poorest and most congested parts are on the north-eastern side - the Shoreditch one way system, Commercial Street, Aldgate and Tower Hill.

In addition, the route crosses Tower Bridge which gives precedence to shipping when open.

Moreover the century old bridge is structurally weak. It is subject to a 17t weight limit which is difficult to enforce, and cannot take a big increase in traffic as a result of drivers diverting round central London.

One suggestion is that the charged area should be extended to the Blackwall Tunnel. But this would involve a much longer diversion for drivers trying to avoid the charged area and would bring within it a large number of businesses and residents who are least well able to pay. I believe a better solution is to create an additional diversion route through the middle of the central area - from Kings Cross to Farringdon Road and across Blackfriars Bridge, which is the best crossing of the Thames in or around the central area. This route would prevent increased congestion on the north east section of the Inner Ring Road and is no more environmentally sensitive. Its suitability has already been recognised by designating it as part of the GLA road network.

Introducing congestion charging needs fresh thinking about using the most suitable routes for traffic with no business there.

No

Derek Turner, Transport for London director of street management It has been good to know that a business organisation as important and influential as London First is right behind the Mayor's plan to introduce congestion charging in central London.

I am less keen however on its suggestion to establish a free route for HGVs and commercial vehicles across Blackfriars Bridge.

As we both agree, the aim of the current scheme is to deter all vehicles, both commercial and otherwise, from driving in central London. But surely this idea would encourage them to do just that - drive through the centre of the capital?

Not only that, but by being 'officially sanctioned', the newly designated road would simply attract even more traffic. Southwark Council, to name but one authority which would need to be consulted, is unlikely to want yet more heavy commercial traffic diverted through its borough.

Again, London First agrees entirely with us that the logical boundary for the scheme should, in the main, be made up of the major, signed bypass routes that already encircle central London and comprise the Inner Ring Road.

True, these routes vary in quality and, naturally, we are looking at specific stretches which may be potential pressure points.

As you would expect, we have been working with the Corporation of London, Tower Hamlets and Southwark Council on a number of new traffic management measures to ensure, for example, that existing weight restrictions on Tower Bridge, which have not been thoroughly enforced in the past, are more effectively enforced in the future.

We have been working with a large number of local authorities throughout the Greater London area for some months now to consider implementing new, effective traffic management schemes all around the boundary and ensure that when the scheme is due to start in 2003, there is a smooth and efficient flow of traffic around - not through - the centre of our capital.

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