Getting Around the Congestion Charge

The congestion charge was introduced 4 years ago into central London as a way of cutting back on traffic entering the centre of the city, thus decreasing pollution. It was heralded as a great innovation, copied by many cities around the world, and this year the zone was enlarged to envelop a bigger area. But drivers are a crafty bunch and have come up with ways of adapting their driving (and life) to avoid the charge, now at 8 GBP ($16 US) per day. The most obvious is parking just outside the zone and walking or taking a cab in. Since there is no charge after 6:00 p.m., many park and sit in the car until that time and then drive in. Driving children to school (the school run) is a cherished part of London parenting, now children are taking the bus (gasp!) or the mothers are car-pooling. Since owners of hybrid and electric cars do not have to pay the charge, some are using the G-Wiz or Smart car as their "city" car and some businesses have switched over.

Although reports claim that there has not been a loss of trade by those shops inside the zone, many others are locating their stores well outside of it. The U.S. embassy is smack in the middle of town, and they, along with other embassies, are simply refusing to pay the charge because they consider it to be a tax. Their bill is up to 1.5M GBP ($3M US) now and still running. The congestion charge has cut the number of cars entering central London by 16%. However there has been one blip in the success story: by expanding the size of the zone, the number of cars inside it has increased by 4% from last year. That's because the 230,000 residents who live in the newly included areas no longer have to pay the charge. :: The Wall Street Journal

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