The Corner

Homer Nods

The Manhattan Institute is one of the jewels of New York City, but a recent mailing I received from them advertising an upcoming panel discussion suggested that in one respect at least it has lost its way. The title of the discussion: “Road Pricing Worked in London. Can it Work in New York?”

“Worked” in London?

Good grief. Where to begin?

Lets just start with this:

The world’s biggest congestion charge scheme has failed to cut car use in London and simply shifted traffic jams to other parts of the capital, says Britain’s largest supplier of travel news. The toll ” which rises today by 60 per cent to pounds 8 ” has reduced jams inside the charging area but has made ‘no difference’ to the total number of car trips in greater London, according to Trafficlink, a supplier of information to the AA, BBC and more than 200 commercial radio stations. The charge has also created an entirely new ‘mini rush hour’ just after 6.30pm when the levy ends, the organisation says…Jams have been made worse by motorists driving round the zone trying to avoid the charge, says Rob Clayton, the organisation’s London specialist. Euston Road, on the northern boundary of the area, used to be busy at some times of the day, but now it is ‘absolutely rammed’ most of the time, Mr Clayton said. Other new areas of congestion are the roads through Bermondsey towards London Bridge on the eastern end of the zone and just south of the Elephant and Castle at the southern end. The A2 from Kent is just as congested as it was before the charge was introduced in February 2003. Edgware Road in the west copes at most times of the day but becomes log- jammed as soon as an incident of any kind happens, he said. The proposed westward extension of the zone would result in more traffic jams around the enlarged area and much longer journeys for those trying to get around it, Mr Clayton said.

Or this, via the Evening Standard, from 2004:

The extent of opposition to expanding the congestion charge zone can be revealed today. Two of Britain’s biggest retailers – Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer – have come out against Mayor Ken Livingstone’s plans. This follows an official pan-London survey, which attracted 102,000 responses and found 63 per cent of residents and 72 per cent of businesses were opposed to the zone expansion. Nevertheless, the Mayor has given the official go-ahead to double the area into west London by late 2006 to tackle traffic congestion, improve the environment and speed up buses. Detailed responses to the 10-week consultation undertaken earlier this year and now published by Transport for London show the extent of opposition Mr Livingstone faces. For the first time, Sainsbury’s and M&S – both of which have a number of stores inside the western extension – have expressed concerns. Harrods has also told the Evening Standard of its concerns. Despite the perception that it mainly attracts tourists, it says three quarters of its customers are from London or come in from the rest of the country. Previously, only the John Lewis Partnership had been prepared to speak out, revealing sales at its Oxford Street branch had fallen nine per cent since the £5-a-day levy began in February 2003. 

And then, of course the fact that the congestion charge can be a plaything in the hands of politicians with an agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with “congestion”, such as the London mayor’s decision massively to increase the charge for certain designated “gas guzzlers”, a decision (see the generally supportive BBC report here) that owes more to class warfare than fears about global warming, energy conservation or, for that matter, anything else.

In conclusion, there’s certainly a case to be made for a congestion charge (although I wouldn’t make it), but asserting that it has, debate over, “worked” is, to put it mildly, a stretch…

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